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NY Referendum Rolls Dice On Expansion Of Casinos

Opponents have little money to combat the multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns of a powerful mix of business, gambling and union interests. And Cuomo had sidelined much of the expected opposition.

He assured Native American tribes that they wouldn't face competition to their five casinos now operating under federal law. Cuomo also assured no competition to horse racing centers with video slot machines and gave them a chance to pursue casinos. The Board of Elections also moved the casino referendum to the advantageous top ballot position.

If voters reject casino gambling, the law will automatically approve more video slot machine centers.

Supporters say casinos will recapture more than $1 billion a year now spent at casinos out of state.

"Proposal No. 1 would start to bring that money back to New York and create over 10,000 good-paying new jobs in New York state," states one of the statewide TV ads paid for by the NY Jobs Now Committee and featuring a hard-hatted everyman.

The key may be in the referendum's wording.

The Cuomo administration rewrote the referendum from the straightforward form submitted by the attorney general's office. The Board of Elections added disputed promises that casinos would bring more school aid, jobs and tax breaks, without mentioning the opponents' concerns about crime, addiction or the declining casino market that has forced some states to subsidize casinos.

An October Siena College poll tested the impact of the rewording. Voters statewide were split on casino gambling in general. But when shown the promises in the rewording, approval reached 55 percent for the first time.

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long called the casino effort "the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the taxpayers of the state of New York," while The New York Times called the rewording "advocacy, pure and simple."

The critical wording was unsuccessfully challenged in court by Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder. The state Board of Elections won on a technicality that Snyder didn't file his lawsuit by the Aug. 19 deadline, although the state didn't post the rosy wording until Aug. 21. Powerful Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco is pushing a bill to prohibit rewording.

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