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Cuomo pushes for three upstate casinos

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Governor Cuomo has been pushing the plan for upstate casinos as an economic development tool for several months now. The constitutional amendment needed, which has already received partial passage, calls for seven casinos. Cuomo says he wants just three destination gambling centers for now.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Areas open for consideration in the governor's bill include the Hudson Valley- Catskills region, The Saratoga –Capital District area, the Southern Tier and Western New York.

The governor, speaking earlier about his plan, said it could be a major economic development engine for depressed upstate areas.

"We need jobs in upstate New York and economic activity in upstate New York like we need oxygen," he said recently.

Central New York and the North Country will not receive any new casinos, under the plan, because the Oneida and Mohawk tribes have reached agreements with the Cuomo Administration for exclusive rights to operate existing tribal- run casinos.

Cuomo has not been able to reach agreement with the Senecas in Western New York, who operate a major casino in Niagara Falls. The tribe and the administration have been feuding for years. Cuomo, in perhaps another attempt to win a deal with the Senecas, says in his bill that if the disagreement continues, then the state would site two additional Video Lottery Terminals, which are essentially slot machines, in Western New York.

Cuomo, in his legislation, places a five-year moratorium on any casinos in the downstate region. He also bans any of the future casinos from opening anywhere in New York City. The governor says downstate doesn't need them as much.

"A New York City franchise would eat at the buffet table of the upstate casinos, so to speak," Cuomo said.

The casino legislation offers new details, like the rates of taxation for the gambling centers, which would be set at 25 percent of profits, and lays out how the revenues would be distributed to state and local governments. But it remains virtually unchanged from the broad outlines of the governor's proposal released a month ago.

In the meantime, Cuomo has been meeting regularly with legislative leaders to try to get them on board.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has said he would like a casino to also be sited downstate. More recently Senator Skelos said he'd at least like to see at least some Video Lottery Terminals on Long Island, which he represents, possibly at Belmont Race track.

"We're going to look at all regions of the state and how everyone can benefit," Skelos said recently.

Senate Racing and Gaming Committee Chair John Bonacic has released a bill that would favor sites in the Catskills, an area that he represents.

A Senate spokesman would say only that the Senate will "review" the Governor's bill and that it will be "part of discussions on casino-related legislation between now and the end of session".

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also been non committal about specifics, saying only that he does not want a casino sited in Manhattan, where he lives.

In a statement, Silver said "the Governor has presented a comprehensive plan which we will discuss in conference and I believe we can reach an agreement before the end of session".

Lawmakers have until June 20 to reach an agreement.

In an effort to cut down on political maneuvering when the selection of casinos operators heats up, Cuomo's bill bans potential vendors from making campaign contributions to elected officials.

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