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NY gov makes case to delay public vote on casinos

Michael Gormley, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- As another casino prepares to open near New York's state line, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a case Wednesday to postpone a referendum on whether to allow major casinos off Indian land to give the politically difficult issue a better chance of passing.

A public referendum to change New York's constitution to allow non-Indian casinos has been expected to be on the ballot in November. But that's an off-year election for state offices and voter turnout will be greatest in New York City for the mayoral election. Cuomo is proposing three upstate casinos, which could generate little voter support in New York City.

"I think it's a significant problem," Cuomo said. "That's one of the issues we are working on."

Voter reaction to statewide referenda are notoriously hard to predict and strong opposition in the form of a TV ad blitz is expected by gambling interests outside New York to reduce competition.

Republican Sen. Thomas Libous, the Senate's deputy majority leader who supports upstate casinos, first suggested in March that the referendum be moved to 2014 to assure greater statewide voter turnout.

"That would be an option ... that I would be open to," Cuomo said.

Cuomo and legislative leaders met for well over an hour behind closed doors Tuesday night and casinos was a primary topic.

"Today was mainly about casinos," said Senate Republican Dean Skelos in emerging from the meeting. He said the top priority for the legislative session ending June 20 remains creating jobs.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said New Yorkers will know the regions where casinos would be built before they vote in a referendum to change the constitution.

"We're talking about how we spread them throughout various regions," said Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that shares majority control of the Senate with Republicans.

A week ago the Siena College poll found New Yorkers only slightly favored Las Vegas-style casinos in the state.

This week Springfield, Mass., chose MGM Resorts International as the preferred developer for a resort casino that would be a short drive from eastern and central New York. MGM is seeking to build an $800 million resort casino on 14.5 acres.

Massachusetts's 2011 gambling law allows for up to three regional resort casinos, including one in western Massachusetts. Hard Rock International has proposed a casino in West Springfield and Mohegan Sun has a plan for the town of Palmer. The state's gambling commission will chose one of the three projects, likely in early 2014.