By Michael Hill
ALBANY— Bet on complications in picking spots for new casinos in New York.
It has become clear since Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January proposed three upstate casinos in yet-to-be identified locations that there is a patchwork of conflicting interests when it comes to gambling in New York. Not only are state lawmakers pushing back at Cuomo's proposal to let a commission dominated by his appointees take charge of siting, there are rumblings from potential competitors and questions from local officials.
"We're known right now as a family-oriented resort. Do we want to be known as a gambling town?" asked Lake George Mayor Robert Blais.
The tourist-heavy area around Lake George and Saratoga Springs, 20 miles south, could be a candidate for a new casino. But a new casino could conflict with Saratoga Springs' nationally-known thoroughbred track and the local harness track with video slot machines.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson said any new casino that cuts into its successful attractions could be a problem.
"I have to be parochial when it comes to what I advocate for, what I fight for, for our community," Johnson said, "and certainly horse racing is at the top of that list."
Johnson does, however, see the value in adding table games to Saratoga's video casino.
Lake George's Blais said he will withhold judgment as he lobbies for an independent impact study, but he notes that "our community seems to be divided."
It's not just gambling interests that are concerned.
Proctors, a theater in Schenectady, already competes for some of the same acts as Turning Stone Resort Casino almost 100 miles west, said Philip Morris, Proctors' chief executive officer. A large casino complex with a big theater would vie for patrons of the existing theaters in the Albany area, he said.
"They're really unfair competitors because their goal to keep people in the building so they stay at the table," Morris said.
New York already has five Indian casinos and nine tracks that offer video slots but no table games. The Legislature is expected to consider final passage this year of an amendment to the state constitution that would allow up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos beyond Indian land. If approved by lawmakers, voters could make a final decision in November.
Blais said a new casino right in Lake George would violate New York's exclusivity agreement with Mohawk Indians, who run a casino near the Canadian border. Similarly, a new western New York casino could run afoul of the exclusivity agreement New York has with the Seneca Indians, who operate casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca.
Both tribes have been withholding revenue-sharing payments from the state, claiming their exclusive gambling territories are already being encroached. A settlement of the Seneca dispute, which is now being arbitrated, could have a bearing on new casino development in western New York.
Under Cuomo's plan, the first three casinos would be located upstate in a process overseen by the New York State Gaming Commission, the new regulatory body to which he will appoint five of the seven commissioners. But top lawmakers have already made clear they want a role.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island has mentioned a possible casino in his region and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has raised the possibility of sites in Brooklyn and Queens.
Cuomo, in a public radio interview Thursday, stressed that he wants the siting issue steered clear of the Legislature. "I am going to have nothing to do with a politically driven process," he said.
Meanwhile, some downstate politicians have raised questions about casinos in their midst. New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, said she has "serious concerns" about the social costs of a casino near the city, especially if it shuts out minority- and women-owned businesses.
"Any sort of decision which is this major — and obviously opening up a casino is major — it really should have community input in some ways," she said.