Tuesday, December 18, 2012
OTB legislation vetoed by Cuomo
By Tom Precious
Legislation to bring off-track betting back to New York City was vetoed Dec. 17 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The veto halts the attempt by Catskill Region Off-Track Betting Corp. to pick up the business lost a couple years ago when the nation's largest OTB company -- the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. -- closed under the weight of a bankruptcy filing and scuttled a political deal at the state Capitol to let it stay in operation.
In his veto message released the night of Dec. 17, Cuomo said that the legislation included no business plan to implement the proposal.
"Rather, this is another ad hoc gambling expansion," Cuomo said. He noted the legislation would allow gambling policy to be made on a piecemeal basis, one he called "irrational and inconsistent" with how New York should regulate gambling.
The governor noted a new state Gaming Commission will be formed in February, and its mission will include consideration of a "comprehensive, sensible approach to gambling."
The Cuomo administration, which is now essentially in control of the New York Racing Association under a three-year restructuring measure approved earlier this year, is said to be concerned that the Catskill bill's timing comes as officials are to consider next year whether to permit up to seven new casinos, including possibly one or more in New York City.
Permitting the Catskill OTB to bring back off-track gambling to the five boroughs could make those casino franchises less valuable, some observers say.
Proponents, though, said the measure pushed by the president of Catskill OTB, Donald Groth, would have restored a valuable stream of income for NYRA and other tracks, and gotten jobs restored for many of the more than 1,000 workers laid off when NYCOTB shut down. Backers said the measure would also have provided needed revenue-sharing payments to the state government, which is facing another deficit in the coming year and is seeking to figure out how to pay for reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Groth criticized the governor's veto for denying former NYCOTB workers getting their jobs back two years after the city OTB closed. "Those jobs would have provided legal opportunities for horse players from all over the five boroughs of New York City to wager legally and conveniently within the city," Groth said. hose wagers, he added, would have helped return money to racetracks lost since NYCOTB and its betting parlors closed.
Groth said Cuomo's veto is a "missed opportunity to show that off-track betting in New York City can be fun and profitable. We will ask the state Legislature to return to session to override this unfortunate veto."
Such a veto override is all but impossible, especially since the Legislature would have to do so by Dec. 31 before its current two-year sesssion ends; there are no planes for a special session by lawmakers in the next two weeks.
The Catskill bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature in June.
The legislation extends the Catskill area it is now allowed to operate -- a large part of the Hudson Valley and into the state's Southern Tier area -- to include the five boroughs of New York City. The closing of NYCOTB in 2010 resulted in the shuttering of nearly 60 betting branches.
The bill did include provisions to restrict Catskill from operating anywhere in the city; approvals for new betting parlors would have been needed by a local site selection board.