New York’s Board of Elections asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the wording it authorized for a referendum to approve expanded casino gambling in the state, saying it was filed too late.
Under New York law, gambling measures must be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a referendum. Lawmakers passed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to open seven casinos to boost the upstate economy last year and ratified it again in June. The referendum is slated to go to voters Nov. 5.
Brooklyn lawyer Eric J. Snyder challenged the decision to change the wording in a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in Albany this month.
Snyder, who says he is opposed to the proliferation of gambling in New York and intends to vote against the referendum, said the inclusion of language about the plan’s ability to create jobs and generate economic activity is a use of public funds to advocate for a “yes” vote and violates the state constitution.
Lawyers for the Board of Elections today asked Justice Richard Platkin today to throw out Snyder’s petition, saying it was filed after an Aug. 19 deadline to challenge the referendum’s wording. The language was approved at a meeting in July that was shown via live webcast, Paul Collins, an attorney representing the Board of Elections, told the judge.
“This collaterally attacks a resolution of the board,” Collins said. “It’s challenging the ballot, and will change every ballot in the state of New York.”
The statute of limitations cited by the board doesn’t apply because information about the meeting in July wasn’t posted on the board’s website until mid-August, Snyder said. The document signed at that meeting wasn’t what the attorney general’s office had authorized, he said.
The delay in the posting of information from the July meeting wasn’t intentional and was due to a staff member on medical leave, said Tom Connolly, a spokesman for the Board of Elections. There is a 32-day deadline prior to general elections and ballots have already been sent to printers, Connolly said.
It would be a “difficult task” to amend the referendum language, while not impossible, Connolly said. It’s still possible to send out new absentee and military ballots since voters could be given more time to fill them out and they could be opened later than usual, Snyder said.
“I have no issue with additional time on the case, but we don’t have a lot of time,” Snyder said. “I don’t necessarily want to stop the train. I want the Board of Elections to take the advocacy language out.”
Platkin said he would rule by the middle of next week at the latest.
“It’s being implied that the election system will be put into total chaos,” Platkin said. “I’d like to try to bring this to some resolution.”
About 55 percent of likely voters polled by the Siena College Research Institute from Sept. 22 to 26 said they would vote yes on the referendum based on the language currently on the ballot, while 42 percent said they would vote no. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The measure would create two rounds of casino licensing, the first calling for four facilities upstate. Seven years after those licenses are sold, the second round would permit another three casinos in locations to be determined. Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island will also each get a video-slot facility.
The casino and other measures are part of Cuomo’s plan to revive the upstate economy. The cost of government in the region climbed 47 percent from 2000 to 2010 as the population dropped by 1.4 percent, Cuomo has said.
New York already has five full casinos operated by Indian tribes under federal law. In addition, the state allows video-slot machines at nine race courses, including Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City’s Queens borough and Yonkers Raceway about 18 miles (30 kilometers) north of Manhattan.
The casino deal Cuomo reached with lawmakers allows for as many as four new video-slot facilities if voters knock down the amendment.
To advance the proposal, Cuomo struck deals with tribal groups, including the Oneidas in central New York, the Mohawks near the Canadian border and the Senecas in western New York, guaranteeing an exclusivity zone around each of their casinos.
Those accords have left only three of six regions slated for full gambling licenses: the Saratoga-Capital District, the Hudson Valley-Catskills area and the Southern Tier near the Pennsylvania state line.
Foxwoods Resort Casinos and Muss Development LLC, a New York City company, agreed June 11 to build a resort on 500 acres in Liberty, about 100 miles northwest of Manhattan in the Catskills. The accord would still be subject to passage of the constitutional amendment and state gambling commission approval.
Las Vegas Sands Corp., the company controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson that’s the largest U.S.-based casino operator, has said it has no interest in expanding in the state outside New York City.
The case is Snyder v. Walsh, 5449/2013, New York State Supreme Court, Albany County.