ALBANY, N.Y. - Closed-door negotiations to expand casinos in New York call for five upstate casinos, including as many as three in the Catskills and two video slot machine sites on Long Island, according to the bill released Thursday by state Senate Republicans.
The bill calls for a Las Vegas-style casino in the Southern Tier's Tioga County; one in the Albany region, which includes Saratoga County, home to Saratoga Race Course; and one in Washington County, which includes a shore of Lake George. After a five-year wait while the first casinos establish themselves, the bill calls for another one in Westchester County or Queens, or elsewhere in upstate New York.
A constitutional amendment to be put to voters in November would authorize as many as seven casinos but doesn't identify where they would be located.
The bill released Thursday also calls for two video slot machine casinos run by off-track betting agencies in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The bill would study whether to authorize more casinos limited to video slot machines and electronic table games elsewhere in the state.
Currently, the video slot machine casinos, sometimes called "racinos," are legal only at horse racing tracks and aren't run by off-track betting agencies.
State Sen. John Bonacic, who sponsored the bill, said the video slot machines for Long Island are an important "sweetener" for the overall casino bill. They are pushed by state Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County.
Bonacic, a Republican representing several Catskills counties, said in an interview that he feels it's important to let voters know where casinos would be located before they are asked to approve a constitutional amendment. That public vote is needed to change the state constitution to allow casinos off Native American land.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn't want to identify the casinos before the vote. Instead, he said, casino operators should identify the most lucrative markets. He wants a gaming commission he proposed to choose sites in order to limit political influence.
Bonacic says he's working with Cuomo, not in opposition.
"We tried to blend it as much as we could with the governor's goals and parameters and basically to help upstate with its large unemployment problems," Bonacic said in an interview. "We do believe it's important to identify the seven so there is more transparency and voters will be able to vote more intelligently.
"Second, it's important to state where casinos won't go, so those with fears won't have to worry about a casino coming into their backyard," Bonacic said.
The big winner under the Catskills-area senator's bill would be that region. But up to three casinos in the mountains would also provide access to the New York City market without putting a casino in Manhattan, something opposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
"We have the closest proximity to 10 million people," Bonacic said. He noted the Catskills population also swells with Manhattanites who have weekend homes in the mountains, which for most of the 20th century was a storied resort destination."