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Casino referendum

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo doesn’t like the odds shaping up on passage of a referendum legalizing non-Indian casinos in the state. So he and state lawmakers are talking about improving the chances of passage by delaying the vote.

The Legislature has yet to take a second vote on submitting to the voters a proposed constitutional amendment allowing up to seven casinos in the state. If approved, though, a referendum could be put before the voters in this fall’s elections. However, there are no statewide races or federal offices up for election that would draw voters across the state to the polls, which doesn’t bode well for the referendum.

The enabling legislation, if the plan is approved, would allow only three casinos to start, but all of them would be north of New York City. However, with only local races on the ballot — many of which usually feature unopposed candidates and gain little attention — it is feared upstaters might not turn out in sufficient numbers to carry the referendum against possible opposition from Big Apple voters. A contested New York City mayoral election is expected to bring out voters, but they might be hesitant to approve a plan that doesn’t deal them in for at least five years.

So, the governor and lawmakers are talking about waiting a year so the vote coincides with the gubernatorial and legislative elections in 2014.

At the same time, Gov. Cuomo has also proposed upping the ante to win upstate voters. New York has five tribal casinos and nine racinos that offer video slots. A recent Siena College poll found New Yorkers only slightly in favor of more Las Vegas-style casinos in the state.

State practice has been to share casino profits with the host county to offset the added costs of fire, police and other municipal services. However, Gov. Cuomo suggested spreading the wealth around to neighboring counties with host localities and counties in the region divvying up 20 percent of the state’s share.

Siting casinos also could be complicated by the state’s compacts with Indian tribes that bar other casinos in a region where there is a casino run by a tribe in good standing. However, the St. Regis Mohawks and the Seneca Nation of Indians are withholding casino payments to the state for its alleged contract violations by allowing other casinos to operate in their exclusive territories.

Another year could give referendum opponents a better chance to organize. Opposition can be expected not just from anti-gambling groups concerned about the societal impacts of addictive gambling but also from established casino operators even in neighboring states trying to block more competition. It could lead to a vigorous debate in the year ahead and make the delaying tactic a risky bet.

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