ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The lucrative prize of a New York City casino remains off the table for now, but some gambling interests would still take a chance under new legislation that would allow four upstate casinos.
State lawmakers are poised to vote as early as Friday on a measure that would authorize Las Vegas-style resort casinos in three upstate areas: the Catskills-Hudson Valley region, the Southern Tier near Binghamton and the Albany-Saratoga Springs corridor.
The agreement prohibits casinos in Westchester and Rockland counties, in New York City and on Long Island for at least seven years, to give upstate casinos a chance to flourish.
Nothing can happen unless an amendment to the state constitution allowing full casinos on non-Indian land is approved by voters in November. But gambling interests eying upstate casinos were still buoyed by the end-of-session deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers.
“We’re very encouraged,” said Foxwoods Resort Casino President and CEO Scott Butera. “We’ve always said we wanted more than one casino in the Catskills area. I think this opens the door for that.”
Foxwoods officials announced this month that they and Muss Development of New York City are prepared to build a $300 million-plus casino resort next to the former Grossinger’s Hotel, a mainstay from the Catskill’s Borscht Belt heyday a few generations ago.
The proposal is one of three that could repurpose old Catskill hotel sites for resorts with gambling — though only two full casinos could be built in the region.
Developers who plan a resort at the site of the old Concord hotel had no immediate comment on the deal. In Ellenville, developers who want to build a casino resort at the old Nevele hotel said they were optimistic.
“It really sets the stage for something really special,” Nevele investor Michael Treanor said of the deal. “There are going to be a lot of people who go back to work in the region as a result of this.”
The Catskills are less than two hours from Manhattan and proponents hope resorts there can pull back some the New York gambling dollars that now flow to Atlantic City, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Although the Northeast is becoming a saturated gambling market, New York could still be attractive to developers because of its size, said Clyde Barrow, a gambling expert at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“I think there’s still an appetite there,” he said.
In the Southern Tier, Tioga Downs Casino owner Jeff Gural said he would bid for a license to expand beyond the video lottery machines at his harness track if the referendum passes in November.
“I have a good location because I’m centrally located between Elmira, Binghamton, Pennsylvania, Ithaca, Cortland,” Gural said.
Another raceway with video slots, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, also will bid for a license, a spokeswoman said.
The three Indian tribes that operate upstate casinos in New York appear to be on the sidelines after striking recent deals with Cuomo that grant them exclusive territories. The operators of the state’s largest and most lucrative track with video slots, Resorts World Casino New York City in Queens, signaled support for the deal.
“We have reviewed the proposed legislation and fully support the governor’s goals of upstate job creation and economic development outlined in the proposal,’ said Stefan Friedman, spokesman for the Malaysian-based Genting Group.
On Thursday, the New York Gaming Association, which represents the state’s “racinos” — race tracks with video slots — also threw its support behind the proposal.
The deal also authorizes two video slot centers of 1,000 machines each on Long Island run by the off-track betting agencies of Suffolk and Nassau counties.
Dr. Stephen Shafer, of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, is fighting the measure.
“Video lottery terminals are extremely addictive. They have been designated as the crack-cocaine of gambling,” Shafer 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.
Long Island residents appeared split on the proposition.
“You can do video slots in your living room at home. If that can be done, why wouldn’t we allow it so the state could generate revenue from it?” Nassau County resident Marina Chen told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
Others said the machines would unfairly target those who could least afford it.
“People who can least afford it are the ones who end up spending a tremendous amount of money,” Bruce Malito said.
Lawmakers called the proposal a good way to keep Long Islanders from traveling to Yonkers, Queens, and Saratoga.
The agreement also imposes a $500 fee on every slot machine and table game at casinos to be used to address gambling addiction.
It’s no sure thing voters will approve the referendum. A Siena College poll this week found 49 percent in support and 40 percent opposed. Political operatives see the referendum as vulnerable to a well-financed opposition campaign by existing gambling interests.
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