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New York City Voters May Decide Upstate Gambling Expansion

This November, voters will get a chance to decide whether 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.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature agreed in June to allow up to four new resort style gambling casinos upstate. Locations include the Catskills, Southern Tier and Capital- Saratoga Regions.  Other areas of the state already have casino gambling run by Indian 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.

Governor Cuomo, who pushed for the casinos, is for now taking a neutral stance on whether New Yorkers should agree with 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 overall 49% are for the idea, 42% 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 upstaters should get the new casinos or not.  It’s an off year for state wide races, and most local municipal elections do not generate high turn outs, although there are mayoral races in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse this year.  New York City has a mayoral election which is generating a lot of attention, and could draw a large turn out on November 5th.   Greenberg says because of that it’s hard to predict whether the amendment will pass or not.

According to the Siena poll, in New York City,  the break down of supporters and opponents is even more evenly divided,  at 47% for the new casinos  to 43%  against them . 

In the New York City suburbs, support for the amendment to expand gambling is strongest, at 52% to 39%.  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.  Governor Cuomo earlier this year 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 Western New York, Central New York and 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 should all begin after Labor Day.