By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY The pro-casino group, New York Jobs Now, has raised nearly $2.7 million to wage a major advertising push in the final week before voters will decide whether to legalize up to seven privately owned casinos.
Yonkers Raceway, one of the state's largest racetracks with video-lottery terminals, has pumped $750,000 into the group, which started last week running ads in favor of the proposition. Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier has contributed $400,000 so far to the group, campaign-finance records show.
The ads started last week in New York City and Long Island. The group is also expected to fund newspaper ads and direct mail.
"Obviously, there will be a big push, mainly downstate and Long Island, where most of the votes will come from," said Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs.
The casino vote on Nov. 5 asks voters to change the state constitution to allow for privately-owned casinos. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature passed legislation to put the first four in upstate: the Catskills, Southern Tier and the Albany area.
The upstate casinos would have exclusivity for seven years, but that hasn't stopped the downstate casinos to pump money into the referendum's passage. Genting, the Malaysian-based gambling giant that owns the racino at Aqueduct Race Track, contributed $500,000 to New York Jobs Now.
The effort is also being supported by unions. The United Federation of Teachers, the New York City-based union, has contributed $250,000. The proposition is the first of six on the ballot.
Anti-casino groups, including the state Conservative Party, have expressed opposition to the referendum, particularly the rosy language that says the casinos would create jobs and provide tax revenue.
"NYPIRG has been deeply troubled by the ballot question and language that was certified by the state Board of Elections, language that seems to go beyond explanatory or descriptive and instead has become advocacy in support of Proposal 1," the New York Public Interest Group said in a statement. The group said it isn't taking a position on the referendum.
The vote will come down to big-money groups versus grassroots opposition, said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a conservative group based in Monroe County.
"All along we said it's the grassroots against Goliath," McGuire said.