By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- A plan to permit seven non-Indian casinos in New York was the major topic of discussion during about 90 minutes of closed-door talks this evening between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders at the Capitol.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, was the most optimistic of the legislative leaders from the Senate and Assembly, saying he does not see major obstacles that will halt a required second passage of a constitutional amendment permitting the casino expansion. If lawmakers approve a resolution that matches the one they passed last year, along with an accompanying bill laying out some specifics about where the new gambling halls might be located, voters in November would consider the plan in a statewide referendum.
"We're committed to getting second passage this year and having legislation that would accompany it,'' Skelos said after the meeting in Cuomo's office.
The top Republican in the Senate said he is fine with Cuomo's plan to let the state Gaming Commission, an agency Cuomo controls, pick the casino vendors and specific sites. "I think that's when the Legislature steps away,'' Skelos said of lawmakers picking regions of the state eligible for a casino but not the actual sites.
The Senate leader said the $600 million dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians came up during the meeting. That fight, now before a binding arbitration panel, will decide whether the state honors a geographic exclusivity deal the Senecas have for gambling rights in Western New York. If a deal can't be reached, the state, theoretically, could break the compact with the Senecas and try to locate a new, non-Indian casino in the Buffalo area. Cuomo has already threatened to try to place one in downtown Niagara Falls.
Asked if Cuomo sent any signals indicating a deal may be close with the Seneca tribe, Skelos said, "I think he's working with them and he's hoping to get a resolution and hopefully get a resolution before the binding arbitration.''
Cuomo and lawmakers agreed in March to drop the casino issue from the budget talks in order to ensure an on-time fiscal deal. Skelos said Tuesday's meeting was the first substantive talks involving the gambling expansion plan this year.