Casino referendum may be put off until busier election year

May 1, 2013

A statewide referendum on whether to allow non-Indian casino gaming in New York may not be on the ballot this November. Governor Andrew Cuomo says this is not an ideal year for a public vote due to a lack of statewide political races that will bring voters to the polls.

Cuomo says if a referendum were held this year, downstate voters would be determining the fate of an issue that largely affects upstate New York.

The Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls could see competition if voters someday approve a referendum to allow for non-Indian gaming in New York.
Credit WBFO News file photo

"The main election in the state in November is the New York City mayoral election. So you would have the somewhat unusual circumstance of an election to site casinos in Upstate New York where the largest turnout is New York City, and New York City has no vested interest because there would be no casinos in New York City," Cuomo told reporters Wednesday.

"That has been raised as a problem and I think it's a significant problem."

Cuomo has proposed three upstate casinos with the sites to be determined through an open competition.  Earlier this year, the governor floated the idea of a second casino in Niagara Falls, where the Seneca Nation operates one of its three Western New York facilities. 

The Senecas, who also operates casinos in Buffalo and Salamanca, are currently engaged in arbitration with the state over hundreds of millions of dollars in withheld casino revenues. The tribe says the state violated its compact when it allowed for gaming machines at racetracks. The missing revenues have hit Niagara Falls particularly hard.

Cuomo says the state will honor existing contracts that are "in good standing." The governor was asked if that applies to the Seneca Nation.

"That's a different and a longer conversation. Contracts that are in good standing at the time the competition is held," Cuomo said.

The state legislature is scheduled to give its required second approval of a constitutional amendment to expand gambling before the end of session on June 20.