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Aqueduct Casino Looking Like A Better Bet

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Aqueduct Casino Looking Like A Better Bet

First Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dropped his long-held opposition to casinos in the city, saying he could support one at the Aqueduct race track racino site.

Yesterday, I reported that Gov. Cuomo is also open to the idea.

Now, in a part of my story today that ran online but was cut from the paper, Assemblyman Karim Camara, the Brooklyn Democrat who heads the legislative black, Latino, Puerto Rican, and Asian caucus, is on board as well.

Camara told me yesterday that the caucus has not taken a formal position on the possibility of casino gambling in general and in New York City specifically. But Camara said he personally could support a city-based casino as long as its not located in densely populated areas of poverty. He said he, too, is open to converting the Aqueduct racino into a full-blown casino.

The caucus' position will play a major role since it is such a heavy force in the Assembly.

Silver told me in today's story that he could not guarantee Cuomo a successful push for casino gambling in his chamber. He simply promised the governor to pursue the matter with his conference.

It's also possible, Silver said, that his members would want a more restrictive constitutional amendment than Cuomo is seeking. The governor wants a basic amendment to allow for the legalization of casino gambling. Cuomo and the Legislature would work out the details of how many casinos should be allowed and where they should be located down the road.

Here's the full story that ran online today:

The push to legalize casinos in New York is no sure bet to pass in the Assembly, the Daily News has learned.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) supports the idea, but he told the Daily News on Monday that he can’t guarantee such a bill would fly with his Democratic conference, which holds a majority in the chamber.

“I just don’t know,” Silver said.

Gov. Cuomo has said he will call on the Legislature in 2012 to make the first of two needed approvals of a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling, which would then require a referendum, no earlier than 2013, before it becomes law.

“The last time it came up in the late 1990s, it was a close vote in the conference,” Silver recalled.

In particular, the speaker said he does not know if there is support in his New York City-dominated conference for a casino specifically within the five boroughs.

The News reported in Monday’s editions that Cuomo opposes a casino in densely populated parts of the city, but is open to one at a place like Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, which already has a virtual casino. Silver’s views are the same on both points.

But much has changed since the Legislature took up the issue in the 1990s, Silver acknowledged.

Not only is the deficit-plagued state desperately in need of new revenue and job creation, but casinos have sprouted up in surrounding states and even on Indian reservations within New York.

“There may be an attitude of ‘Let’s take some of the revenue and keep it [at\] home,’” Silver said.

In addition, there are now nine virtual casinos at New York racetracks, including at Aqueduct, and their existence may help generate support for full-blown casinos.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, of Nassau County, has said he supports a constitutional amendment to legalize casinos. But a Skelos spokesman said Monday that the chamber has not taken a position on where casinos should be located.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, says the group has not taken an official position on casinos. But while Camara opposes the idea of casinos in areas with high concentrations of poverty, he is open to legalizing them at existing racetrack “racinos” like Aqueduct.

Silver and Skelos recently promised Cuomo that they would pursue within their respective chambers the first of two needed legislative votes on the constitutional amendment.

Some insiders took that to mean the approvals would be automatic. But Silver and Cuomo both told The News that the speaker promised the governor he would raise the issue with his members, but couldn't ensure the measure would meet with success.

Cuomo wants the constitutional amendment to legalize casinos in the state, but not necessarily spell out how many casinos would be allowed or where they would be located. Those matters would be decided later on by the governor and Legislature before the needed public referendum.

Silver said it is possible that his members will want the constitutional amendment to be more specifically defined than the one Cuomo has talked about.


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