By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY In a change of position, the state's nine racinos announced Thursday that they will support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's casino legislation, saying recent changes to the bill is enough to garner their backing.
The New York Gaming Association, the lobbying arm for the tracks, had opposed Cuomo's initial bill. They argued that it would have given a huge tax advantage to the four privately owned casinos that Cuomo is seeking to build.
The final bill, which was submitted late Monday, gives tax parity to the racinos if casinos are located near their facilities. That appears to be enough to win over the racinos, who would have been a major obstacle for Cuomo as he seeks voter approval for the plan in a November referendum.
"The New York Gaming Association will throw full support behind the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act and the referendum that will be put to the people in November," the group's president, James Featherstonhaugh, said in a statement.
"The inclusion of competitive tax parity, a plan that keeps the three Western New York racetrack casinos as vital partners to state and localities, and the assurance that our two successful downstate partners can continue providing good paying jobs and generating significant funding for schools are significant improvements from earlier drafts of this bill and critical to our support."
Because of gaming agreements with the state's three Indian tribes, four of the state's nine racinos - including three in western New York - will be ineligible to become full-scaled casinos. But those county governments will share in the state's piece of revenue from the tribe's casinos, the bill states.
Still, the three racinos in western New York - Buffalo, Batavia Downs and Finger Lakes - will be limited in their marketing and the games they can offer because the Seneca Nation of Indians have exclusive gaming rights in western New York, including the Rochester area. The racinos in the region will not be able to call themselves casinos or market their video-lottery games as "slot machines."
"We appreciate the vision of Governor Cuomo and the Legislature in recognizing the significant contributions made by our members to the state in terms of education funding and job creation," said Featherstonhaugh, who is part owner of the Saratoga racino. "We look forward to continuing to partner with the state to enhance and improve upon the tourism dollars that will benefit all New Yorkers."
The deal gives the four upstate casinos exclusivity for seven years, which also means that the two New York City area racinos - Yonkers Raceway and Aqueduct - will be able to operate without competition from casinos for seven years.
But the racinos will have more competition from video-lottery facilities: The bill lets 1,000 video-lottery terminals to be located in each of Nassau and Suffolk counties at Off-Track Betting facilities.
The bill also allows the state to add four video-lottery facilities across the state if the referendum fails. Cuomo said Wednesday that the racinos and casinos can co-exist.