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A Shinnecock Casino At Belmont? Don’t Bet On It.


The new Queens casino opened in October adjacent to Aqueduct’s grandstand. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

RISKY BUSINESS


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Interestingly, a Siena College poll conducted days after Cuomo’s speech found that “more than half of New Yorkers support Cuomo’s proposal for allowing non-Indian casino gambling…53 percent of New Yorkers supported Atlantic City- and Las Vegas-style casino gambling with 42 percent opposed.” By contrast, only 38 percent supported the idea of building the nation’s largest convention center at Aqueduct, and 57 percent were opposed. The governor told reporters that once people understand that Genting, not New York State, would put up the billions of dollars to build the giant complex, they would climb on board.

“I think they will be overwhelmingly supportive,” Cuomo said last week. He’s also promising to keep everything above board and transparent, which was not what happened two years ago when his predecessor proposed a gambling casino at Aqueduct.

Here’s the headline of a Daily News editorial in February, 2010: “Bad smell at Aqueduct.” The paper slammed then-Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Silver and then-state Senate Democratic boss John Sampson of Brooklyn for “their flagrantly scandalous plan to bring casino-style gambling to Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.” The editorial board said these three Democrats “picked a company to run thousands of slot machines at the decrepit raceway in dead-of-night secrecy that reeks of favoritism and fixes.”

Their pick was a politically connected outfit called the Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG), which had ties to then-state Senate President Malcolm Smith, Sampson, and Floyd Flake, the former congressman and pastor. It didn’t help their cause that even Paterson’s office conceded that AEG had not scored well on the state’s Lottery Division ranking, but the reasons were never disclosed. The editorial was just another nail in the coffin for the AEG bid, which finally proved too toxic even for South Queens, and was put to rest.

Opponents of Cuomo’s casino gambling proposal doubt it will be much better.

“I thought it was a very slick move on his part to wrap a casino inside a convention center. They’re both bad ideas,” says Paul Davies, a fellow at the Institute of American Values in Manhattan. He bemoaned the fact that former Gov. Mario Cuomo had denounced gambling in his 1994 book The New York Idea as “economically regressive.” Unlike his son today.

“The other guy who’s a real disappointment is Mayor Bloomberg,” Davies says, adding that the billionaire once on the record opposing casino gambling has “completely rolled over.” Davies also predicted that if Genting gets its casino license, then smoking will be permitted indoors, another blow to Bloomberg’s public health image, because the casinos don’t want anybody leaving a slot machine to take a smoking break. The whole prospect has Davies depressed.

“Go into Aqueduct. It looks like the Port Authority bus terminal,” Davies says. “There’s a lot of sad, desperate people in there plowing their money into a machine thinking they’re going to get rich. It’s an addictive, bad business.”

Davies notes that Moody’s Investors Service says that Mohegan Sun’s parent company “faces a wall of debt” and that both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut are “teetering.” Elsewhere it’s been reported that revenue at Atlantic City’s casinos has declined five years in a row, despite having a slight gain in December. The city’s 12th casino is set to open in May.

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