September 18, 2014
Gail P. Thorpe, Supervisor of Contract Administration
New York State Gaming Commission
One Broadway Center
Schenectady, NY 12301-7500
Dear Ms. Thorpe:
I write to you today to provide my comments in relation to the Hudson Valley/Catskills Public Hearing by the Gaming Facility Location Board to be held on September 23rd in Poughkeepsie, NY regarding the current RFA for Gaming Facilities.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, and Senate Sponsor of the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act of 2013, which provides for this RFA process, it has always been my desire, and to my understanding, Governor Cuomo’s, that these resort destination casinos need to be located in areas where they will have the maximum positive impact in a traditionally economically disadvantaged area.
Governor Cuomo, as well as myself, made statements throughout the casino referendum process of the need to site casinos where local economic factors demonstrate they “need it the most”* with a particular focus to bring jobs to areas “…where decades of decline have taken their toll in our communities.”** Voters throughout New York State relied on these statements, and others like them, when they passed with over 57% support, the constitutional amendment necessary to bring about this process.
Additionally, members of the Gaming Commission have reiterated this intention during their confirmations, with one member stating that if the constitutional amendment was passed, there would be an “opportunity for employment in areas that desperately need it” and it could be “a tremendous boom to some areas who desperately need the help.”*** Rob Williams, the Executive Director of the Gaming Commission has also clearly expressed this intention in correspondence with my office, a copy of which I have enclosed, by stating that “The intent of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 is to provide maximum benefit to the State through bringing economic benefit to municipalities that have been economically disadvantaged” (emphasis added).
We must also strive to minimize and mitigate any negative impact on existing gaming facilities which already generate significant revenues for education in New York. In fiscal year 2013-14 video lottery facilities across New York generated $916 million in revenues to the state for education. The projections released by the Division of the Budget in 2013 claim that all of the revenue generated by the provisions of the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 (Native American compacts, new video lottery facilities on Long Island and awarding four casino licenses) will generate $430 million in revenue for state aid to education, property tax relief, and local government assistance. We must not endanger $916 million in state aid to education, in order to potentially generate a portion of $430 million.
The impact of casino proposals in the southern part of this region will be felt by nearby video lottery facilities. It is my personal belief if a casino is located in the southern portion of this region, the revenues currently generated by video lottery facilities at Yonkers and Aqueduct would diminish. A spokesperson for Empire City at Yonkers Raceway has stated “Like many others, we believe a casino in Orange County would negate the intent of the gaming legislation to bring targeted economic development to areas in need.”****
Finally, we must consider speed to market of the proposals and whether or not they will face significant delay due to environmental review and/or pending litigation. Proposals in the Catskills are significantly further along, if not finished with their reviews and approvals for construction of their projects, as opposed to projects through the southern part of the region which have only begun the process. Further, recent news reports indicate there is pending litigation for a number of the proposals in the southern portion of the region, before the awarding of any licenses. If licenses are awarded to these projects, it may be years before they are able to begin construction and generate revenues.
In conclusion, it was always my intent, and I believe Governor Cuomo’s as well, when putting together the Upstate Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 that these resort destination casinos be located in areas which have experienced long term economic stagnation and decline, where they can do the most good to bring jobs and economic vitality to those who need them, without negatively impacting the already existing revenue generated for state aid to education by video lottery facilities. I ask that you take these concerns into serious consideration as you review all the proposals in the Catskills/Hudson Valley region.
Your task is not an easy one and I trust you will choose wisely. Thank you for your time and consideration.
JOHN J. BONACIC
*Source: Press Release – “Governor Cuomo Details Fiscal and Economic Impact of Passage of Amendment Authorizing Casino Gaming in New York State in Sullivan County” on November 6, 2013.
**Source: Press Release – “Governor Cuomo Signs Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act” on July 30, 2013.
***Source: Meeting of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee on June 19, 2013.
****Source: Politics on the Hudson blog: “Yonkers Raceway says no to Orange County casino” on June 30, 2014.