Chasing it


Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

That ought to be the campaign slogan for the current push to legalize casino gambling in New York State. There will be a hard-fought, big-money campaign designed to win your vote if the state legislature can get out of its own way long enough to twice pass the required constitutional amendment for legalization.

There’s no gambling in New York State. So says the state constitution — except for nine full-service Native-American casinos (Aksesasne Mohawk in Franklin; Lakeside in Cayuga; Mohawk Bingo Palace in Franklin; two Seneca Alleganys in Cattaraugus; Seneca Niagara; and the ever-popular Turning Stone, near Syracuse). Oh, there are also nine Racino facilities at race tracks like Monticello and Saratoga (where no one gambles, right?) equipped with video slot machines. Then, of course, there is the state lottery, where it’s only a dollar, so it’s not really gambling, as the state siphons off proceeds from where they’re supposed to go — to schools (ironic, huh?). And church bingo, on-line poker, millions of Super Bowl pools, and on and on.

So, with all that, what’s the prize? Well, supposedly, full casinos will service the New York City market, for which many fancy suitors have lined up waving cash in the faces of the deciders. And with full legalization, the state’s share of the “earnings” goes up exponentially.

The deliciously ironic aspect of the whole farce is that state lawmakers could actually put an end to the hypocrisy of the state constitutionally-mandated ban on gambling in the face of what is already billions of dollars of gambling.

What the good solons of the state, both houses of the legislature, Senate and Assembly, have already done is step one — approving a 17-word addition to the state constitution that would allow “casino gambling at no more than seven facilities.” Those seven sites have yet to be decided upon (and there’s the rub, but back to that in a minute).

What needs to happen next is for a newly elected state legislature — and elections for such are this coming November — to approve it again. That could happen as early as January.

The governor, of course, then has to approve it. And when that happens, the entire thing is subject to a statewide referendum, and that’s where the campaign slogan kicks in.

The difficult part is deciding those seven sites. That will be the largest part of the battle.


Too much cash at stake

Once before, in 1996, a state legislature passed the required bill. The second legislature was set to pass it early in 1997, with New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani’s approval, because there were to be no casinos in the city. But as the legislators were getting ready to vote, a guy started running gambling cruises out of New York Harbor: no gambling until the boat got into international waters, twelve miles out. That enraged Guiliani who, with maximal clout, began to reassess his position. And Donald Trump, owner of an Atlantic City casino, began pouring lobbying money into the fight, seeking to defeat the proposition for competition. Scared leaders in the fight began abdicating, creating chaos on the Albany floor, leaving gaping vacuums of power until the measure was ultimately defeated.

Now, in what are hopefully the dying throes of recession, governmental entities are starving for new fresh cash. The casino effort has been revived.

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