Qns pols want community say in casino plans

City Councilman Peter Koo (l.) and Michael Tobman discuss the reasons they want local approval included in any decision to legalize privately run casinos in the state. Photo by Joe Anuta
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City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) is the latest Queens lawmaker to join a group that is advocating for a local voice in the selection of a site for any future casinos in the state.

The coalition, called New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos, was provided seed money by the Oneida Nation, a native American tribe that operates one of five upstate casinos. Those five gaming institutions are currently the only locations where full gambling is allowed, since they operate on sovereign native American territory and not technically in the state of New York.

But a constitutional amendment that is currently making its way through the state Legislature would allow for seven privately operated casinos throughout the state, and Koo and New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos do not want all the decisions to be made in Albany.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) has also signed on to support the movement, along with about 150 other businesses, elected officials and civic leaders.

“We want them to layer this into the process,” Koo said at a Tuesday news conference in his Flushing office. “Without local support, they could build casinos anywhere.”

Koo sat with Michael Tobman, a principal at the public relations and lobbying firm Hudson TG, who spoke on behalf of the coalition.

Problems with traffic, proximity to schools and the concerns of small business owners are some of the reasons why a clause should be required in the state constitution stipulating that the local population has a say on where casinos are located, according to Tobman.

“It shouldn’t be left to the power brokers in Albany,” he said.

Any amendment to the constitution needs to pass the state Legislature two years in a row. It passed this year and is widely expected to do so again during the next session beginning in January. Finally, in order for the amendment to take effect, the state’s population must approve it with a referendum.

Past efforts to alter the constitution have included a clause requiring local approval, according to Tobman, who provided copies of bills from 2007 and 2011, mostly in the form of a county referendum.

But the current legislation cannot be altered ahead of the next vote in 2013 since the amendment cannot change throughout the process.

Tobman and Koo want to see a new amendment drafted and the voting process to start over.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, said there are already enough hurdles for casino construction, and while local input is needed, a clause in the amendment is not — especially since the Legislature can draft further laws to regulate the industry, he said.

But he added that the Oneida Nation has a large monetary interest in how the legislation goes forward, since introducing other full-gaming establishments could eat into its profit margin.

The nation, which owns Turning Stone Resort Casino, was not listed on the roster of supporters for New Yorkers for Local Approval of Casinos, which bills itself as a coalition of “civic leaders, community activists and families across New York in defense of local rights and local approval.”

Tobman said the nation would soon appear on the site and that its monetary support does not change the coalition’s message of the importance of local approval, though The Wall Street Journal reported that local control could make it easier for the casino to oppose any proposal it deemed a threat.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 4:49 pm, December 12, 2012
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