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Sunday, October 05, 2014

How Orange County Got Involved: "The Governor Did the Region Designations."

One of the mysteries about this whole casino bidding process is exactly how Orange County got into the mix in the first place.  As you may recall - and as I originally detailed in this post - when the final version of the 2013 legislation was agreed upon that June, the governor's own press release included these quotes from the chairmen of the Assembly and Senate racing and wagering commissions which specified the Catskills as a region where a casino or two would be located:

Senator John Bonacic said, “For fifty years, the Catskills have sought gaming as a way to grow our tourism based economy. The gaming bill can create thousands of upstate jobs.."

Chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said, “Our agreement to bring casinos to the Catskills, the Southern Tier and the Capital Region is good for the local economy, the state economy and the people of New York."
So, we've been wondering what happened?  Recently attempting to explain, the Gaming Commission's Robert Williams told us that Orange is usually associated more with the region north of NYC rather than the city itself, and was therefore placed with the former.  It was a purely technical explanation, and didn't explain why the county had to be in one or the other.  I don't believe that the law actually requires that every county is to be considered for casinos.

Now, thanks to some sharp reporting by Nathan Mayberg in the Photo News, we have a far more logical explanation.
Pretlow said Cuomo and the Gaming Commission set the regions for where the casinos would go.

"The governor did the region designations," Pretlow said.

Pretlow said "Orange County was never in the mix" when he drafted the legislation.
State Sen. William J. Larkin Jr. (R-C-Cornwall-on-Hudson represents a district where five of the Orange County casinos have been proposed.  Larkin said that Cuomo "added on Orange County" into the 2013 casino legislation.

"None of us requested it," Larkin said. "It was his decision." [Photo News]
Well, that would clear that up; at least if you take these decidedly definitive declarations as the truth.  Not that this should come as any surprise. Attempts by the reporter to get a response from Cuomo's press office went unanswered.

Recall also that there was another mysterious change to the legislation at the very same time. The clause that would have prohibited the casino bidders from making campaign contributions to elected officials suddenly disappeared. "Some things we couldn't come to terms with,"the governor explained.  Apparently, the Senate Republicans had an issue with the clause.
“When you start trying to limit political contributions you run into constitutional problems,” Bonacic said on the Senate floor Friday night as the bill was being debated. [NY State of Politics]
You know....the same kind of "constitutional problems" that led to the Citizens United decision that has opened the floodgates on donations by corporations dedicated to electing or defeating specific candidates.  So, virtually concurrently, Orange County was opened up for casinos, and those backing the proposals became free to continue donating to the candidates of their choice.  How perfect! That allowed, for example, developer David Flaum, involved in Caesars' bid in Woodbury (and with the Hard Rock proposal in Rennselaer), and his wife Ilene to each personally donate $10,000 to Cuomo in December.  And for Genting, bidding for two casinos in Orange, to donate $10,000 to Senator Jeff Klein in June. Klein, by virtue of his IDC's coalition with the minority Senate Republicans, allowed them to be in the position to have the contributions clause removed in the first place, and he will quite possibly be the man who decides who controls the chamber in January.

 - The town of Tuxedo, where median household income hovers around $90,000 a year, is pleading "financial stress" to the Gaming Commission.
In a letter sent to the state Gaming Facility Location Board Tuesday, Supervisor Mike Rost said a sharp drop in the town's property tax base had led revenue to decline by 28 percent over the past three years. Last year, the town had to borrow to cover a deficit of $750,000, Rost said, and this year the shortfall is expected to be $800,000.

In addition, he wrote, the Tuxedo School District has had an operating deficit of $1 million for the past three years, making it possible that the local high school may shutter for lack of money. [Times Herald Record, limited free access]
We'd similarly seen how, in East Greenbush, the developers tried to play the same card before casino opponents made a convincing case to the board that the town's financial issues were due to fiscal mis-management on the part of the local government.  I can't say for sure why a town like Tuxedo would be having fiscal issues.  But the casino law was supposed to address regions that need economic relief for its residents, mainly in the form of jobs; not to bail out affluent towns with local governments that, for whatever reason, have budget issues.  (Though, ultimately, the state government is surely doing just that - using gambling revenues to help get its house in order.)

 - Speaking of East Greenbush, the developers of the proposed Capital View Casino & Resort are saying "me too!" following Governor Cuomo's pledge to increase the share of state contracts issued to MWBE vendors (Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises) to 30%.  It's a pathetically obvious and shallow act of butt-kissing both the governor and the location board (no doubt recalling that member William Thompson specifically lauded one of the bidders for mentioning their MWBE initiative during the oral presentations) by a development team which no doubt senses that its bid is in serious jeopardy due to the entrenched opposition to its project from the community.  (Or at least it should be in serious jeopardy if this is really a legitimate process rather than one whose outcome is politically predetermined.)

 - Speaking of desperation, the Greenetrack team, hoping to build at Stewart Airport (and seemingly one of the real underdogs), is now throwing in the promise of a new $13 million sports and aquatic center.  Wonder if we'll see similar little nuggets thrown in by other developers at this stage of the process.

 - The two Sullivan County proposals are on adjacent plots at the old Concord resort site; and I've been assuming that it would be one or another (if either).  One county legislator however thinks that more would be more, in this case.
“I think that’s a plus, not a minus,” [County Legislator Ira] Steingart said.  “I think that will generate more revenue for both of them, and in combination, will generate as much revenue for the state.” [Mid-Hudson News]
And I guess that's a little interesting if you think about it.  It would create a mini-casino center there, which was the original intent way back when, when Gov. Pataki was pushing for five casinos in the Catskills.  And the projects do complement each other in some ways: Adelaar is the more elaborate of the two proposals and includes the Monster golf course; while the Mohegan Sun proposal includes development elsewhere in the county (a revival of Grossinger's, and commercial development in Monticello).  Still, seems rather unlikely to me.

 - In closing, let's go back to the first article referenced in this post.  In addition to shedding light on how Orange County got involved, State Senator Larkin provides something to keep in mind when considering this process; the overriding factor that could make much of this - the logic, the speculation, the extra inducements, the pleading, the exaggerating - entirely moot.
Larkin said that Cuomo would have influence on the placement of the casinos. "Anybody who thinks he's not is a fool. It's his commission."

1 Comment:

jk said...

> It's his commission.

Cuomo used this as his excuse for shutting down the Moreland Commission. Will he learn or make the same mistake twice?