New York City voters may decide upstate gambling expansion

Sep 2, 2013

This November, voters will get a chance to decide whether or not to expand gambling in upstate New York. But because of a quirk in the election calendar, it’s likely that downstate voters will be the ones to make that decision.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature agreed in June to allow up to four new resort-style gambling casinos to be built in upstate New York. Locations of these new resorts include the Catskills, Southern Tier and Capital-Saratoga Regions. Other areas of the state already have casinos that are run by Native American tribes.

But in order for the new casinos to be built, the state’s constitution has to be amended, and voters have to approve the change. They’ll get that chance this November.

Cuomo, who initially pushed for the casinos, is for now taking a neutral stance on whether or not New Yorkers should support his plan.  

“That’s going to be up to the people of the state,” Cuomo said. “Gaming is a controversial matter by and large.”

Polls find that the measure to build the four upstate casinos is narrowly supported by New Yorkers. A recent Siena College survey found that overall, 49 percent of New Yorkers are for the idea, while 42 percent are against it.

“It’s close,” said Siena poll spokesman Steve Greenberg. 

But it will likely be New York City and Long Island residents who decide whether upstate New Yorkers should get the new casinos or not. It’s an off year for state-wide races -- although there are mayoral races in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse -- but most local municipal elections do not generate high turnouts. New York City has a mayoral election which is generating a lot of attention, and could draw a large turn out on November 5. Greenberg says because of that, it’s hard to predict whether or not the amendment will pass.

In New York City, according to the Siena poll, the breakdown of supporters and opponents is even more evenly divided, at 47 percent supporting the new casinos to 43 percent against them.  

In the New York City suburbs, support for the amendment to expand gambling is strongest, at 52 percent to 39 percent. Nassau County has a high profile county executive race this year, so turnout is expected to be higher there.

Another major factor in determining whether or not the casino gambling referendum will pass is the influence of advertising. It’s expected that gambling conglomerates will buy television air time to promote the amendment. Earlier this year, Cuomo settled numerous differences that New York has had with the Seneca, Oneida and Mohawk Indian tribes, granting them exclusive rights to be the sole gambling operators in both western and central New York as well as the North Country. As a result, they are not expected to launch any campaigns against the referendum.  

Greenberg expects New Yorkers will hear more about the proposed gambling expansion in the coming months.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of advertising this fall both for and against the amendment,” he said.

It’s all expected to begin after Labor Day.