By PHIL NOBILE
When New Yorkers entered the voting booths on Nov. 5, picking candidates for political office wasn’t their only choice. On the ballot was an amendment to expand gambling in the state to the levels of neighboring casinos in New Jersey and Connecticut. It passed.
With 57 percent of votes cast in favor of the measure, New Yorkers will experience new casino resorts in the coming decade, along with an estimated $430 million in additional state revenue. In what many advocates of the gambling ballot proposal consider a no-brainer, New York has been relegated to electronic gambling and lotteries for years, resulting in most residents fleeing for the likes of Atlantic City in New Jersey, or Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut.
According to projections from the state Division of the Budget, New York could bring in more than $430 million annually for school aid, property tax relief and local governments. A county-breakdown of the numbers by the state budget department says Westchester alone could receive as much as $6.8 million annually.
The approved proposal states the purpose of the amendment is “to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.”
The proposal was heavily backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who described the passing of the proposal as a “big win for local governments.”
“Yesterday’s vote by New Yorkers to authorize casino gaming will keep hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year in neighboring states right here in New York,” Cuomo said.
Currently, New York has five upstate casinos that are Indian-operated and nine slot machine parlors at racetracks, such as Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway.
The measure, titled New York State Casino Gambling Amendment Proposal 1, will operate in two phases over the next decade. Phase 1 allows for the construction of four casinos in upstate New York—two in the Catskills, one in the Albany area and one in the southern tier region of the state—over the course of seven years.
According to state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye
Demo-crat, the decision by Gov. Cuomo to put the initial casinos upstate “makes sense,” and other parts of the state are willing to “level the playing field.”
“The thinking the governor has is he wants the upstate casinos to have a chance to be built and develop a market to attract them,” Latimer said. “The reality is, while there are people who think the expansion is not a good idea for the state, gambling is with us in society, and it is more of a question now if this can be a tool to benefit upstate New York, and I hope it will be.”
After the seven years, construction would allow for three casinos in New York City, Long Island or Westchester. Latimer said, of all Westchester municipalities, Yonkers would be the most likely to feature one of the potential new casinos in the future, as no other communities expressed direct interest as of yet.
“For a city like Yonkers that has a desire to grow jobs and its revenue base, you’d understand why it would be anxious to get [an expanded casino],” Latimer said. “It’s the municipality that wants it the most and has the space for it.”
As for existing local gambling, Tim Rooney, owner of Empire City in Yonkers, expressed support for the amendment and has high hopes for the future of gambling at his casino and in the county.
“It is clear New Yorkers want to spend their gaming entertainment dollars at home rather than traveling to neighboring states,” Rooney said. “We intend to secure a full gaming license when one becomes available in our region and will continue to invest in Empire City to develop it into the premier gaming destination in the nation.”
However, the amendment could lead to competition for Empire City along the way.
Latimer said, most likely, the Yonkers casino would be an entirely new entity rather than an addition to Empire City. He was unsure whether or not Empire City would be able to expand into a full casino resort, pending the creation of a gambling commission in the state.
While the majority of the state’s elected officials publicly expressed support for the proposal prior to Election Day and applauded it’s passing, the issue remains polarized among some residents.
Deborah O’Gallagher, 58, expressed concern over the issues that come with gambling, despite the monetary aid.
“The potential aid is on the backs of people who have a serious problem,” O’Gallagher, a Rye resident, said. “A lot of people spend money on gambling instead of putting a roof over their heads or food on their tables.”
But some residents echoed the sentiments of state elected officials and businessmen. Tom Bumbolow, 37, expressed concern with the financial woes of the state over potential abuse that comes with casinos.
“I think we’re in a bigger state of disrepair with our budget,” Bumbolow, a Port Chester resident, said. “It’s great because the state is in need of more money without taxing people more. No one wants to increase taxes on the people.”
State Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Rye Democrat, could not be reached for comment as of press time.