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Friday, February 07, 2014

Siting Board Appointments Include Cuomo Allies

The first three members of the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board, the panel that will decide the sites and operators of the four upstate NY casinos, have been named by the NY Gaming Commission.

Most notable in terms of name recognition is the former NYC Comptroller, and two-time NYC mayoral race loser, William Thompson, Jr.  We last saw him managing to run second in November, ahead of Christine Quinn, despite what seemed like a lackluster campaign.  He barely qualified for a runoff against de Blasio, but bowed out after a couple of days of bluster after realizing that he had no chance.  Thompson gets a major demerit from this corner for hiring Hank "Take the Fifth" "It’s none of his f–king business, how’s that" Sheinkopf as a senior campaign strategist for his latest bid.

Thompson has had prior dealings with the governor.  Cuomo campaigned for him in 2009, when Thompson ran a surprisingly close second to Bloomberg and Cuomo was preparing to run for his first term the following year.....and Thompson subsequently served as co-chairman of that campaign.  In 2011, Cuomo appointed Thompson as chairman of a task force with the goal of expanding state contract opportunities for minority and women-owned business.  So, no question that these two have a relationship that goes back at least several years.

That's also the case with Paul Francis. He worked on Cuomo's 2010 gubernatorial campaign as well, as an advisor on budget and policy issues. After the election, the governor appointed him as State Director of Agency Redesign and Efficiency and named him Chairman of the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission.  He served in those roles until retiring last year.

And the third appointee, Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz, has dealt with Cuomo as well, though not nearly as closely as the other two..  He is a co-chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, one of 10 regional councils created by...Cuomo to develop long-term strategic plans for economic growth.  Just last month, Cuomo extended his term as well as those of the chairmen of the other regional councils.

So, while there may not be that much of a connection between Rabinowitz and the governor, I think the title of this post is certainly fair in referring to the other two as allies of the governor; they both did work to get him elected, after all.  And note that neither of those campaign roles is mentioned in the otherwise comprehensive biographies of the three men included in the Gaming Commission's press release.  As presently constituted, those two make up a majority of what constitutes a quorum, though we're told that two more members will be appointed.

Now, I certainly can't say that Governor Cuomo will simply pick up the phone and tell the panel members where he wants the casinos to be sited and to whom (though nor would I rule that out).

However, as we've seen, the governor has already tilted the process in the racinos' direction by stating in the budget that new casinos could be operating by January 15 of next year.  The more I think about that, the more fantastic the idea seems.  In the press release announcing the appointments, the Gaming Commission restates the timetable, with "Early Fall 2014" being the goal for announcing the selections.  Only an existing facility could possibly be operational by January 15.  The budget might as well just have said flat out that existing racinos will be operating table games by that date.

If the location board accepts that date as a deadline for an operating casino, be it through coercion, corruption, inference, or telepathy, then the process surely will have been steered in the racinos' favor.  Better yet, if potential bidders get the message that Cuomo wants these things up and running early next year, and that they will therefore be in too disadvantaged a position to make it worth their while to even bother with a bid, then we won't even see any qualified applicants enter the process.  Even with a level playing field, it's an open question as to whether there's any interest amongst the top casino operators to invest in a facility in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region where Gural hopes to get the license for Tioga Downs.  And the notion that the long-dormant Catskills region could be revived to its former status as a resort haven is merely a theoretical one at this stage.  The casino giants may prefer to wait for more lucrative opportunities down the state road.  In that case, then there wouldn't even be much of a decision for the siting board to make.

 - Simulcast signals are the lifeblood of the racing industry these days, and it's all too common, as we know, for them to be the subject of disputes amongst various industry parties.  We see fights between racetracks over payment rates for signals, as with the simmering situation between NYRA and Churchill Downs.  And then there are the situations when horseman's groups exercise their right under the Interstate Horse Racing Act to withhold approval for interstate transmission of signals  (Pullthepocket took a humorous look at that here, and a more serious one here.)

The ongoing situation at the Monitcello harness track however is apparently not your grandfather's signal fight.  Led by the Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo, the horsemen there are taking a stand against the provision in the casino law that would cap payments towards purses from VLT's at 2013 levels at any racino that gets a casino license.  
 “I expect a purse cut, because the last time this happened in 2006 that was the first thing they did,” said Faraldo. “I’m not looking short term, I’m looking long term. To remain competitive, the agricultural and horse industries need to share in the profit.” [Daily Racing Form]
 Monticello seems like a small stage for what is a much larger fight; indeed, this is an issue that cannot even be resolved strictly between the horsemen and the track management.  Empire Resorts, as part of the NYGA, may have had a hand in inserting the provision as part of the backroom dealings that led to the language in the law; but it's the law and they surely can't change it by themselves.  It remains to be seen whether Faraldo intends to hold out there indefinitely, or whether this is intended as a shot across the bow; a warning for the future as agreements at other tracks come up for renewal, especially at Yonkers, which would have a more significant impact to revenues for the track, and for the state.  And, should the more staid thoroughbred horsemen get involved, then things could really get interesting.  Stay tuned.


Figless said...

Love the expanded program on Belmont Stakes Day although a little melancholy over the Met Mile being moved from Memorial Day.

Anonymous said...

"However, as we've seen, the governor has already tilted the process in the racinos' direction by stating in the budget that new casinos could be operating by January 15 of next year."

I understand your dislike of Cuomo, but I just don't get the complaint. If any of the racinos bid and are awarded a casino license, then they could certainly (at least Saratoga and Tioga) convert into a casino with table games by January 15th.

The Governor did not say that the facilities MUST be open by January 2015. He said they COULD be open.

He's just stating the facts.

Figless said...

Off topic but I loved the Foxsports broadcast, best racing production I have watched, focused on racing, not fluff.

jk said...

Assault at Aqueduct

A 40-year-old mentally disabled woman was sexually assaulted in a women's restroom at Aqueduct Race Track on Super Bowl Sunday, law enforcement officials said.

Unknown said...

7:25 - I'm looking at this with the opinion - correct or not - that Cuomo got NYGA to support - or at least, not actively oppose - the referendum in exchange for doing whatever he can to secure them casino licenses. So I'm thinking that, while you are correct in that he said they COULD and not MUST be open, this is part of his effort to hold up his end of the bargain and nudge the process in that direction. We'll see.

Figless said...

More fun times at AQU, this time a suicide in the Casino;