Laying down terms like “adjustments,” “comprehensive,” and “hard look,” north country legislators didn’t fully tip their cards Friday when asked whether they’d support legalizing non-Indian casino gambling.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, for example, noted the tension between the possible economic benefits of casinos, and the harmful effects they can bring upon a family.
“Some people will spend money they shouldn’t be spending,” said. “That’s a real concern. At the same time, casino gambling is already here. It’s an hour north from my home. I would like to do whatever I could to bring jobs to the area.”
The question of legalizing gambling presents a thicket of issues because, as Mrs. Ritchie noted, it already exists in several forms in the state, from sanctioned “racinos” where video terminal gambling is allowed to casinos on sovereign Indian territory.
But the state’s constitution does not allow live table games on non-Indian land. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that his office would start looking into whether legalizing casino gambling was a good idea, given the possible economic benefits and the fact that it’s already widespread here and in neighboring states.
But it’s an issue fraught with possible controversies and opposition. Mrs. Ritchie, for one, will post a survey to her website next week asking her constituents whether they think it’s a good idea.
State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, whose district includes the Turning Stone Native American casino and the Vernon Downs racino, said that he could support a plan that would develop full-scale, live table games at existing facilities throughout the state. Racino operators are pushing for just that. He has submitted legislation to that effect.
“We should do it in a way that help race tracks that have racinos that are struggling,” Mr. Griffo said, “so that we don’t now dilute this so where you have a casino in every other county.”
He added, though, that studies into the issue were still ongoing, a common caveat among lawmakers.
Legalizing casino gambling would require a constitutional amendment — at least a two-year prospect, with affirmative votes in the Senate and Assembly two years in a row.
Advocates of legalizing casino gambling shouldn’t count on Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, to be one of those affirmative votes.
“At this point, I would say that I am not an advocate for building non-Native casinos throughout the state,” she said. “I haven’t been persuaded that that’s the way it should be moving.”
She does, however, support an effort in Alexandria Bay to secure a license to build a racino there. The project could bring in hundreds of jobs, but since it’s the last available license, the process is highly competitive.
Characteristic of responses on the gambling issue, Mrs. Russell’s responses seemed to hem and haw between the positives and negatives of an Alex Bay racino (which Sens. Griffo and Ritchie also support).
“I’m supportive of it, but I do have concerns, like a lot of people do, over the potential problems that I think it could cause, like the people who have gambling problems,” she said. “At the same time, I can support the jobs that would be created around it, the expansion of our tourism economy.”