New York City’s northern suburbs will be out of the running for the state’s first three casinos, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal.
Cuomo proposed in his State of the State address Jan. 9 locating three casinos in upstate New York, hoping the gaming centers would drive traffic to economically struggling areas. In his budget proposal this week, he defined upstate by excluding New York City and Long Island as well as Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
“If you put a casino in New York City, they’ll go to the New York City casino,” Cuomo said in his State of the State. “The people who come in from out of town will go to the New York City casino. We want them going upstate and (are) using this as a magnet to get people upstate.”
New York currently operates nine racinos, many of which were hoping to develop into full casinos by adding table games.
The Legislature last year passed a constitutional amendment allowing up to seven casinos in New York. In order to move forward, the state’s newly elected lawmakers must pass the amendment again, and voters must approve it in a referendum.
Cuomo said in his budget proposal he expects $150 million in revenue from casinos in 2016, 90 percent of which would go to education and 10 percent to local governments for tax relief.
Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Yonkers, said he didn’t expect the downstate area to be included in the initial three casino locations. But Pretlow said potential casino developers might be leery to build in New York because they might not know where other casinos in the state would be located.
Cuomo has referred to the establishment of the first three casinos as “phase one.” It is unclear where casinos would be located in future phases of development.
“I still think it’s going to be a difficult sell because anyone who is willing to make an investment is going to be a little shy not knowing where future competition may be,” Pretlow said.
Empire City, a racino at Yonkers Raceway, wrote in a statement Wednesday: “We look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature as they consider second passage of a constitutional amendment to expand casino gaming and decide where best to locate new casinos.”
Buffalo and Rochester and their suburbs appear to be excluded from casino development as well. The Seneca Nation of Indians in 2001 was granted exclusive rights to operate slot machines west of Route 14, which includes both cities and runs south from Wayne County to the Pennsylvania border.
The Senecas operate three casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
Cuomo said earlier this month the state would not violate any contracts “in good standing” — a phrase that might not apply to the Senecas’ agreement.
The tribe has withheld more than $350 million from New York in protest to the racinos at three western New York racetracks — Buffalo Raceway, Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes.