By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered some new details Thursday about his proposal to build three private casinos in upstate New York, and he suggested that the state wouldn't infringe on existing gambling compacts in "good standing."
If so, that could take the state's two largest upstate cities and their suburbs out of the running for a casino. The Seneca Nation of Indians in 2001 was granted exclusive rights to operate slot machines west of Route 14, which runs south from Wayne County to the Pennsylvania border and includes the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.
The Senecas operate three casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
"We're not going to violate any contracts that are in good standing," Cuomo told reporters.
The "good standing" mention - said several times by Cuomo - signaled that to uphold the gaming compact, the Senecas would need to end its standoff with the state. The tribe has withheld more than $350 million from the state in protest to the racinos at three western New York racetracks - Buffalo Raceway, Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes.
Rochester has often talked about a casino for downtown, the most serious bid being in 2004 by mall magnate Thomas Wilmot.
Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, said Wednesday that he would support a renewed effort to bring a casino downtown.
"I clearly like this proposal, which would allow for using gaming as part of tourism for our bigger cities," said Robach, who pushed the casino plan in 2004.
Cuomo said he would bar, at least initially, putting a casino in New York City - saying the three casinos upstate would drive tourism to the region. He didn't rule out, though, a casino in New York City in the second phase of casino construction. And he said where upstate begins and ends would be part of the discussion, saying initially anything "north of the Bronx."
A constitutional amendment passed last year by the Legislature would allow for up to seven casinos. The Legislature this year would have to approve the constitutional amendment again, and then voters would vote on it in November.
Cuomo said a competition will be undertaken to determine where the casinos would be located. But he didn't think it would completed by the November referendum.
"I don't know that you could get a competition run and concluded by November. I think that would be doubtful," Cuomo said.