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Queens Chronicle

Cuomo casino plan worries Queens legislators

Addabbo, Goldfeder want Resorts World included among full gaming sites

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 5:11 pm | Updated: 11:48 am, Thu Jan 17, 2013.

Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for full casino gaming — including table games — in New York State, but under the plan he outlined in this week’s State of the State speech, Queens residents will have to drive a good long while on the Thruway to get to roll real dice at a real craps table or sit with an actual blackjack dealer.

In his speech, Cuomo said the idea behind limiting full gaming to upstate is to boost tourism and economic development in upstate counties, while New York City already has 50 million tourists a year. Under his plan, up to three casinos would open to full gaming in upstate counties should the state Legislature and New York voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow table games.

“I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up,” he said. “They now go to New Jersey, they go to Connecticut — why don’t we bring them to Upstate New York?”

The plan was unveiled as piece of a larger part of the governor’s agenda that focused on economic development upstate, including promoting New York agriculture and farming and opening the Adirondacks to a national whitewater rafting competition.

But legislators who represent the communities near Resorts World Casino New York City — the only casino in the five boroughs — said the plan to not allow full casino gambling at Aqueduct Racetrack will prevent much-needed jobs and tourism from coming to Queens.

“I do have a major concern over the governor’s remarks made regarding the future of casinos which may impact the future of Resorts World and the opportunity for additional jobs and revenue there,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).

Currently, gamers can play table games like roulette and baccarat at Resorts World, but only in computerized versions. Michael Speller, President of Resorts World, said in 2011 that the casino would be able to add table games to the gaming floor if and when they are approved. The decision to introduce full gaming upstate may also kill proposed plans for casinos elsewhere in the city, such as Coney Island.

“I appreciate Governor Cuomo’s desire to boost our economy and create jobs by allowing enhanced gaming throughout New York State, but we must not forget New York City,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway). “I look forward to working with the governor to finally bring an enhanced casino to Resorts World at Aqueduct in Queens and provide our neighborhoods the economic boost needed, especially as we recover from Hurricane Sandy.”

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Resorts World, said the casino was supportive of Cuomo’s plan to bring full gaming to the state, even just for Upstate.

“We remain interested in enhancing our extremely successful partnership with New York State and look forward to reviewing the Governor’s proposal to facilitate economic development in upstate New York,” Friedman said in a statement released only hours after the State of the State speech. “As an organization that sent nearly $300 million to the state education fund last year alone, we are enthusiastically supportive of any arrangement that benefits New York State’s schoolchildren.” 

The idea to keep casinos out of the city got some support from Mayor Bloomberg, who said on Thursday that he supports the governor’s plan to build full casinos upstate, but was not sold on having them in the city.

“I think casino gambling is very regressive. The average person is going to lose,” he said at a press conference in Elmhurst on Thursday. “I’m not so sure it’s appropriate for New York City.”

But at a press conference on Thursday, Cuomo reiterated that his plan does not rule out full table gaming in New York City in the future, though the first full casinos would be upstate. He noted the city would have an advantage over the rest of the state if the bid was opened statewide.

Under an agreement with the Legislature last year, seven casinos were approved with full casino gaming statewide, but in the State of the State speech, Cuomo said only up to three would be upstate.

“If there were going to be [a casino with table games] in the city, that would be the option that most bidders would bid on,” he said, “We want to take that off the table.”

The governor did not specify where upstate the casinos would be located, though a number of full gaming casinos exist already in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area and in the Southern Tier on land owned by the Seneca Native-American tribe. Members of the tribe have expressed concern about new casinos competing with theirs. The Adirondacks, North Country — the area along the St. Lawrence Seaway across from Quebec — and Finger Lakes regions have been suggested for casino development, according to sources.

Goldfeder called the governor’s clarification “good news” and promised to work with the governor to bring table games to Resorts World. Full casino gaming would require changing the state constitution.

It would need to be approved by two successive Legislatures and then by voters by referendum. That means both the Assembly and Senate would have to pass the bills after two different elections. The amendment already passed both houses last session and is expected to be brought up again this year. If it is approved again, the issue would then go to the voters in November.

— Josey Bartlett contributed to this story.

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