Last week Governor Cuomo and State Legislators made a deal to legalize public casinos in New York and amend the state constitution to allow seven new casinos to open. The location of the new casino sites will not be determined until 2013, at which time the amendment will have to be approved by the new Assembly following Novermber’s elections.
Right now you might be thinking, “I’ve been gambling in Yonkers for the past five years. Since when does gambling in New York require a constitutional amendment?” After all, there is no end to the list of important issues the Governor and legislators ought to be focusing on, like budget deficits and jobs. As it turns out, casino gambling might offer a solution to both problems.
Several forms of gambling, including casino gambling, have already established long roots in the state. Lotto, scratch off tickets, Daily Numbers, betting on horse racing, casinos operated on federally maintained Native American reservation territories, charity bingos and “racinos” (facilities that offer casino-style slot machines and video lottery terminals) have all been made legal through a series of constitutional exceptions, federal negotiations and agreements between the state and tribal leaders. So what’s the need for a constitutional amendment?
The current constitution, which has been in place since 1938, prohibits gambling. The promotion of gambling in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor, and the promotion of gambling in the first degree is a class E felony, which could result in a maximum 4-year prison term. Currently operating gaming facilities have found a major, and extremely profitable, loophole allowing video lottery terminals and slot machines. Gov. Cuomo’s proposed 8-word amendment would more broadly legalize state-regulated gambling allow the state to profit through the gaming industry. The Legislature has accepted the Governor’s plan in return for the Governor’s approval of a seemingly-partisan redistricting plan.
Groups in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing state-regulated casino gambling in New York have long argued that these exceptions have turned the ban into a mere roadblock, one that keeps the state from generating enormous revenues that would benefit taxpayers. Citizens Committee for an Effective New York has reported that $2.7 billion in state revenue was earned from gaming in 2010, with $2.2 billion coming directly from the lottery. Estimates based on expanding current Video Lottery Terminal locations, including Aqueduct in South Ozone Park and Empire City in Yonkers, to include table gaming claim the revenue generated could exceed a billion dollars a year. That estimate does not take into consideration the expected boon to local economies in the Catskills and other regions of Upstate New York that would benefit from increased jobs and new regional investments.
The Aqueduct Racetrack, operated by Resorts World in South Ozone Park, and Empire City in Yonkers are New York’s two highest earning casinos. Aqueduct, which took the state-wide lead before the end of November last year by earning $9.9 million, and out-earned all other racinos even before the facility was fully opened on Dec. 16, serves as a model of what the state could expect from increased gaming. The New York Gaming Association (NYAG) claims that a constitutional amendment permitting live table games would allow the nine currently operating racinos to expand employment by 17,400 jobs across the state and bring in approximately $3.3 billion in state revenue. Ultimately, NYAG would like to see all nine racinos transformed into fully-functioning casinos. Not only would the addition of live table games directly support 575 full-time equivalent jobs (with wages of nearly $53 million), it would also directly support the racing and breeding industries which would increase by an estimated $26 million annually and support 460 jobs ($13 million in wages) within those industries.
If the new legislature does not approve the amendment in 2013, New Yorkers would have to wait until 2015 for a constitutional amendment to take effect.