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Controversy Over Wording Of State Casino Referendum

10:26 AM, Oct 11, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - You would think that the wording of a referendum on the November ballot on whether the state should add non-Indian casinos would be pretty basic and straight forward, but it's not.

With some input from the governor's office, which favors the measure, the referendum reads that a change is being made to the state constitution to permit casinos "for the purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes."

And here's why that matters:

Siena College conducted a poll asking people the simple question if they supported an expansion of casino-style gambling and people were split right down the middle: 46% to 46%.

Then people were read the text of how the referendum will appear on the ballot - with the talk of job growth, aiding schools and lowering taxes and the poll went to 55% in favor and only 42% were opposed.

That's a 13% difference in favor.

"This is about as blatant as I've seen," said Peter Galie a retired Canisius College professor and an expert on the state constitution.

He says if the referendum survives a court challenge, it will set a dangerous precedent, permitting the wording of referendums to be skewed one way or the other.

Scott Brown: "So it's much bigger than just casino gambling?"

Peter Galie: "It is much bigger than casino gambling because if they're enabled to skew the language in this one, what prevents them from putting in any language for or against in any other future amendment? The consequences down the road for the amending process and the public's role in that are profound."

A New York City lawyer is challenging the wording of the referendum in court saying it's unconstitutional.

A hearing on the referendum is scheduled for Friday.

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