IT’S ALL ABOUT RACE
Is it me, or is it me? Does anyone remember that just a few years ago the hot debate around town centered on the fate of gambling in New York State: Downstate, represented by Long Island, verses Upstate, with the Catskill region leading as adversary. Native American victories on casino establishments in the northwest of the state served as an enigma to a state legislature anxious to share in uncollected revenues.
ACT ONE, Scene One: The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut, under Federal recognition, uses its legal authority to establish a gambling operation that attracts foreign entrepreneurs eager for profit ventures.
ACT ONE, Scene Two: The Mohegan Tribal Nation follows in quick pursuit and within a stone’s throw of their Pequot neighbors, also garnishing large revenues.
ACT TWO, Scene One: In historical sequence, Native American Nations that bear the names of several upstate cities in New York State are quietly attempting to duplicate the Connecticut experiment.
ACT TWO, Scene Two: Millions in untapped potential state revenues.
Obviously, my historical scenario is abbreviated. As an example, the Foxwoods Casino was founded in 1986 as a bingo hall. The casino was financed by Lim Goh Tong, a Chinese Malaysian who founded the only legal casino in Malaysia. He died in 2007. In 1992, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, the casino’s owner, added table games, followed by slot machines in 1993. But, so much for history.
Fast forward to 2007. Foxwoods Casino agrees to pay 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state of Connecticut, a sum that amounts to $200 million per year. In the year ending 2008, Foxwoods’ 6300 slots handle more than $9.1 billion. Despite twenty years of petitions by our Catskill neighbors for legal entry into the gaming business, the New York legislature kept a deft ear to their cause. Suddenly, the light bulb goes on! Casinos by the names of Turning Stone, Akwesasne Mohawk, Seneca Gaming and Seneca Niagra are now functioning and looking for expansion. And guess what? They are all under Native American control! Unlike the Pilgrim settlers of our country, this movement occurred under the radar of our elected representatives.
When one considers this two decade evolution, the question becomes: What was the spark that ignited Albany legislators, spearheaded by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which led to a re-alignment of priorities and the expansion of gambling? The answer is two-fold: a statewide demand for new revenue and the inevitable Shinnecock entry into the gaming world. The not so subtle maneuver of the governor to facilitate an 11th hour bill in the Assembly speaks poorly for transparency. However, the bill does speak directly to the state constitution which will require amendment.
Have you heard this before? “Revenue to our counties means one thing: We won’t have to raise property taxes.” Out of the mouth of Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square). Believe that and I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. His shield for such a statement was based on the promise of 1,000 video slot machines each for Nassau and Suffolk counties. When it comes to the gaming industry, we have no shortage of corruption and mismanagement; one case in point, the debacle to select a company to run video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack. Let us not forget the original premise for the New York Lottery system – dedicated funds for the state education system. By all accounts, no school district in our state should be facing budget cuts with jackpots in the millions. Bottom line, it’s all about the money. Or is it?
As the dice rolls across the table, a new gamer is about to come to town. The Shinnecock Tribal Nation has called Long Island its home long before the Pilgrims. Their reservation rest on the most valuable real estate in the state. Because of that assessment, neighbors have consistently resisted any Shinnecock advancement toward federal or state recognition. That battle has been won by the Shinnecock, but the war continues. Albany’s new threat: Downstate entry into the gaming business by another Native American presence. The slogan, Follow the Money, now becomes Get There First. Albany’s reaction: the race is on! (Pun intended).
A reality in New York State, like neighboring states throughout the country, is a need for new sources of revenue. How and where these sources are collected require more than a midnight escapade with people of questionable integrity. I like to gamble just like the other guy. The suspense, excitement and occasional win (miss those ringing slots) are irresistible. Just don’t put the casino in my neighborhood.