Legislative Gazette Reports on Southern Tier Officials' Hope for Gaming License

Posted January 20, 2015

Southern Tier lawmakers united by casino hopes
By Roger Hannigan Gilson, The Legislative Gazette, 1/12/15

Southern Tier lawmakers are hopeful for a Vegas-style casino at Tioga Downs after Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested an additional license to be awarded for a fourth upstate casino.

The lawmakers initially expressed anger and disbelief that the Gaming Facility Location Board in December awarded a license for the "Eastern Southern Tier Region" to Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre near the Finger Lakes, not considered to be part of the Southern Tier.

Critics of that project say the Tyre casino will draw revenue from already-existing gaming facilities instead of bringing new revenue to the state.

Up to four casino licenses were to be awarded in three regions by the Gaming Commission: the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, the Capital Region and the Southern Tier region. The Board ended up awarding only three licenses, one to each region.

The Southern Tier region includes all of Tompkins, Tioga and Broome counties, as well as most of Chemung and Schuyler counties. A slim portion of that demarcation stretches upwards to Lake Ontario, which qualified the Tyre casino, located 40 minutes from Lake Ontario, to apply for a license.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, expressed disbelief the Board didn't choose one of the other two Southern Tier options: Tioga Downs in Tioga County and Traditions Resort & Casino in Johnson City, Broome County, both solidly in the Southern Tier.

"None of us ever thought a casino would be placed up there," Lupardo said.

After the Tyre proposal received a license, Traditions withdrew any future bids and threw its support to Tioga Downs for a license.

Traditions Spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the presidents of Traditions and Tioga Downs spoke after the licensing decision was handed down last month and decided to present a "united front" to Albany to attract an additional license for the Eastern Southern Tier region.

"[Traditions is] doing it for the Southern Tier and it really just shows their commitment to the region," Donnelly said.

Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, whose district includes both Traditions and Tioga Downs, said he didn't throw his support behind a particular Southern Tier proposal, but assumed the license would not go to the Tyre casino, a decision he called "a horrible choice."

Lupardo, whose district includes Traditions but not Tioga Downs, said she had also stayed neutral on where the region five casino would be located, but "assumed" it would either go to Traditions or Tioga Downs. She now supports Tioga Downs with Libous.

Assemblyman Christopher Friend, R-Big Flats, said licensing the Tyre proposal was a bad idea because it would impact pre-existing Indian Casinos, such as Turning Stone in Oneida County, as well as Tioga Downs, already a racino.

"[New casino revenue] was supposed to be coming in [from] outside of the state, not from residents living here, so you're supposed to be able to generate more revenue instead of just shifting revenue within the state from one hand to another," Friend said.

Friend went on to say the Tioga Downs and Traditions proposals would not have affected existing Indian casinos, instead drawing patrons from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other points south due to their proximity to the Pennsylvania state line.

Lupardo said this would hurt employment rates in areas already hosting gaming facilities.

"[The intent of the casinos] was to help struggling communities. …and to place a facility like that in such close proximity to so many other I think in the long run will be a detriment to some communities that are doing OK now, that are doing well now."

Cuomo's letter to the Gaming Commission and the Gaming Facility Location Board stated that a second round of bids "may excite national competition by interested parties that submit even better Applications than the first round."

Libous said he would support a Tioga Downs casino even if new bids came forward in the Southern Tier.

"They're already set up as a racino, they could be set up as a full casino in six months to a year…in this case, because of where we are at this juncture, and [because] creating jobs is so important, I would support Tioga Downs at this point."

The Gaming Facility Location Board issued a statement on Friday saying they would entertain the governor's request to issue a new request for applications for the Southern Tier.

(For the original story, please visit http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-Top-Stories-c-2015-01-12-90426.113122-Southern-Tier-lawmakers-united-by-casino-hopes.html.)

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