Even before polls closed on what would be a resounding victory authorizing seven Las Vegas-style casinos in New York, confident developers were making plans to announce specifics of the splashy hotels and gambling palaces they hoped to build in places like the Catskills that badly need an economic jolt.
Tuesday’s vote, which passed by a 57-43 percent margin according to unofficial returns, sets in motion a heated contest to select casino operators who will have a hand in selecting sites for the first four upstate casinos.
One would be in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area. A New York City casino would be built in seven years and possibly more could be built in the suburbs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Gaming Commission will prepare requests for proposals from casino operators. Casino complexes will include hotels and other facilities to make them what Cuomo calls destination resorts. That process will take months and could be delayed further by lawsuits challenging the process
The Nevele Investors casino resort developer sought to be the first in line, announcing even before the polls closed that it would hold a teleconference Wednesday to discuss plans it has, likely in the Catskills.
Cuomo hopes to use the casino plans as part of his 2014 campaign to show he has addressed a major 2010 campaign promise to turn around the upstate economy.
“Since taking office, my administration has focused on reviving the state’s economy, and today’s vote will further pave the way for the creation of new jobs, construction, and increased tourism in communities across the state,” said Cuomo who is seeking re-election in 2014.
He worked closely with the lobbying group NY Jobs Now which ran his automatic robo-calls beginning Monday, urging approval of casino gambling that had long split New Yorkers in polls. The group of top business leaders, union leaders and local government officials waged a multimillion dollar campaign.
“I think it’s a bad day in the social history of a proud state,” said Stephen Shafer of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, one of the many grassroots organizations with little funding fighting the pro-casino campaign. “I can’t be too gracious because it wasn’t a fair fight. … I think New York state is being taken for a ride.”
One of the groups, the Committee Against Proposition 1, said “everything about the process seemed rigged. Nevertheless, we accept that the people of New York have spoken; our focus will now be on how to mitigate the impact of casinos in the Catskills.”
The vote was a major win for Cuomo, who proposed casinos as a way to aid the long-distressed upstate economy.
But while Cuomo hailed the measure as a way to generate jobs and tax revenue — his administration even reworded the ballot language to emphasize those disputed benefits — critics from progressive good-government groups to the state Conservative Party and the state’s Roman Catholic bishops warned that the governor’s projections were inflated and the social cost to families and communities would be profound.
Cuomo framed the referendum not as a question on gambling, but as a way to capture what he said is $1.2 billion a year in current gambling revenue that New Yorkers now spend at casinos elsewhere, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada.
Cuomo’s budget office says the state would take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education, in a repeat of the strategy that approved lottery games. The rest would go to communities near casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction.
An organized and well-funded campaign helped secure the vote. Cuomo had provided guarantees of exclusive gambling territory to Indian tribes that operate five casinos under federal law and other agreements to sideline operators of video slot machine centers at race tracks.
That sidelined the big money that was expected to counter supporters’ TV ad blitz.
Associated Press writer Jake Pearson in New York City contributed to this report.
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