WEEKEND EDITION

Assessing the Wreckage of Cuomo’s Casino Plan

| June 7, 2012 4:00 AM video

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office says there's no connection between a $2 million contribution from the Gaming Association and his casino plan. The plan itself has hit major snags. AP/Hans Pennink

On June 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Genting’s plans to build a $4-billion convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack had fallen through. The deal with the Malaysian company was supposed to have been the cornerstone of Cuomo’s job creation plan, and an important ingredient in the governor’s deal with the legislature to bring table games to seven non-Indian racetrack casinos across New York State, including Aqueduct. Cuomo said he’d have to find another company partner.

Cuomo never mentioned casinos or a new convention center during his campaign, so many lawmakers were surprised when he sprang the idea at the beginning of 2012. On Monday, The New York Times gave an answer to why that might have happened. The New York Gaming Association, which counts Genting as a major financial backer, had contributed $2 million toward Cuomo’s unofficial advocacy organization, the Committee to Save New York. The story got even sketchier on Tuesday, when the Wall Street Journal reported how the contribution had been prefaced by a private meeting between Genting representatives and the governor.

WATCH VIDEO:

Susan Arbetter interviewed Albany political players about the news that the New York Gaming Association gave $2 million to the Committee to Save New York. Video courtesy of the Capitol Report.

It started when Genting representatives lobbied the governor at a private fundraiser in 2011. A month later, The New York Gaming Association donated $2 million to the Committee to Save New York.

Even though the Committee to Save New York has raised a whopping $17 million, most of which was spent on advertising for Cuomo’s reform initiatives, it’s registered as an advocacy nonprofit instead of a lobbying group, so it doesn’t have to reveal its funding sources.

None of this is illegal, but the New York Post summarized part of why it’s so scandalous:

“But the big bucks being spent — and the infinitely bigger bucks at stake — underscore the dangers of potential corruption implicit in legalized gambling. Which is why we’ve long opposed its expansion in New York — even as it now seems inevitable.”

Good government groups voiced more strongly worded explanations for why they think New Yorkers should be outraged: because the Gaming Association was able to have such a powerful impact on public policy with its dollars and without the public’s awareness. Occupy Albany, much?

“It appears that the entrance fee to participate in public policy discourse is  2 million dollars.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 2 million dollars,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause told Susan Arbetter on the Capitol Report.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has refused to comment and the governor’s press officer, Richard Bamberger, wrote a 2,000-word response claiming there was no connection between Cuomo’s policies and the Gaming Association money.

“The suggestion is obviously insulting and sensational but more, is also dead wrong,” Bamberger wrote in the letter.

Cuomo’s new ethic commission, JCOPE, is planning a hearing this Thursday to discuss new rules about fiscal disclosure, which will likely be debated for months, reported Gotham Gazette.

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