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Queens Chronicle

Casino bill means no tables in Queens

State voters must approve full gaming in November referendum

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 12:56 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

Voters will decide if New York State will allow full table gaming at some casinos in the state this November, but one of those casinos will not be Resorts World Casino New York City.

The two-year old facility at Aqueduct Race Track will not be allowed to have table games under proposed legislation that will go into effect if voters approve a referendum allowing table games in the fall.

At least not yet.

The legislation, agreed to by the state Legislature, allows for four casinos to be built upstate — one in the Catskills, one in the Capital Region, one in the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border and a fourth casino to be located in any one of those locations.

After seven years, Resorts World will be able to petition the state to allow table games, providing that the state Legislature allows table games downstate in a separate piece of legislation, but the casino may not have exclusivity and others could open on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley or elsewhere in the city.

After months of pushing Gov. Cuomo and state legislative leaders to allow table games at Resorts World, the two state legislators who represent Resorts World, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), voted for the bill. Their support came after some heated debates over the inclusion of Resorts World.

The New York Daily News reported this week that Goldfeder was berated by Cuomo aides for pushing Resorts World to be included in the legislation, with one of the governor’s staffers accusing Goldfeder of “shilling for Genting,” the parent company of Resorts World. Cuomo had said in the past that he believed any full casino downstate would impede on business in planned upstate casinos.

Daily News columnist Ken Lovett reported that Goldfeder was overheard talking to others in Albany about the incident.

When asked about the exchange, Goldfeder did not confirm or deny it occurred, but did say he had met repeatedly with the governor’s staff.

“Over the last five months, I have been having multiple conversations with the governor and his staff about the best way to roll out enhanced gaming,” he said. “There’s no secret that gaming has been a priority to me. I have been pushing the governor to include Resorts World. When you’re passionate about an issue, you tend to get heated.”

Goldfeder praised the governor’s work toward bringing full gaming to the state, but said it was a mistake to leave out the only casino in New York City, especially in light of how much money the facility brings in. Resorts World has raked in over $1 billion in proceeds since opening in October 2011, nearly half of that going to the state’s education fund.

“I commend the governor for keeping gaming at the forefront of reviving the state’s economy,” he said. “However, if you’re leaving Resorts World out of the conversation, you’re doing a disservice to the state.”

In the end, Goldfeder said he supported the bill because he believed it would help the state as a whole.

“You don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good,” he said.

Addabbo said he met with Cuomo face-to-face on the issue and, although he supported the bill, noted that he had concerns about it.

“Am I crazy about the bill? No,” he said, “but a lot can happen in seven years. This gives Genting a running start over any other proposed casino downstate.”

Addabbo noted that the referendum still has to go before voters, which he gave a “50-50” chance of succeeding.

“We’re assuming that the people are going to approve this,” he said. “If we don’t approve the referendum, this piece of legislation is a moot point.”

If the referendum fails in November, the bill allows for video lottery terminals, the slot machines currently in use at Resorts World, to be installed at locations in Nassau County. Addabbo said it wouldn’t allow for a full casino facility like Resorts World, but would permit VLTs at locations such as Off-Track Betting parlors.

The dynamics of the proposal may decide what happens at the ballot box in November. It is an off-year election and turnout is typically lower statewide than in presidential and gubernatorial election years. New York City will be holding its mayoral election and a number of mayoral candidates and Nassau County will be casting votes for county executive, district attorney and the county legislature. Westchester County, home to Empire City Casino, the only other gambling facility downstate, will also be holding elections for county offices. Those areas will likely have a higher turnout than upstate, where most counties are not having local elections and some supporters of the bill, including Addabbo, fear voters downstate may not be supportive of a plan that only immediately benefits upstate.

Polls have showed the initiative to be a tossup, though no new surveys have been conducted in months. Religious groups have said they will oppose the bill.

The legislation passed in Albany last week did not place a ban on donations from casino operators, which Cuomo had originally wanted as part of the bill and said he would support as recently as earlier this month.

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