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Cuomo's video lottery terminals proposal isn't sitting well in Hamburg

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's quest to fill a $6 billion hole in the state budget is not sitting well with Town of Hamburg officials, who see a big hole coming in their budget if one of his proposals becomes law.

The governor has proposed eliminating $6.9 million in aid to all but one of the municipalities that host video lottery terminals. Those are the games played at Hamburg Gaming, and the state pays the town $865,679 each year out of the proceeds. Erie County also receives $288,560 for being a host county.

The City of Batavia receives $440,789, the Town of Batavia gets $160,388 and Genesee County gets $200,392 for hosting Batavia Downs.

The payment to Hamburg was more than $1 million a year, and that had been reduced by more than half by 2012. It has increased in recent years to the current amount.

"It's devastating news," Hamburg Supervisor James M. Shaw said.

That aid is the largest revenue source in the town budget after taxes and would mean a 9.65% tax increase if other cuts were not made, he said.

State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said he is prepared to show the impact the cut would have on Hamburg and to fight to restore it.

"We know the state is in bad fiscal shape this year, but we're not going to balance our state budget on the backs of the Town of Hamburg and on the backs of the County of Erie," Ryan said.

He said the first thing the state looks at in closing its budget gap is money spent for local municipalities to avoid cutting state services.

"Not only is the state having a lean year, but of course your municipalities are too. You can't just take our problem and buck it down to the local level," Ryan said.

The payments are given to localities to defray local costs associated with the video lottery gaming facility.

Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget, said the revenue benefits of hosting a facility outweigh the costs.

“Local governments across the state benefit from hosting video lottery terminal facilities in the form of increased sales taxes associated with the facility and from those who visit it and spend in their communities, far outweighing any possible costs associated with hosting one,” Klopott said in an email.

The state does not provide similar aid for other communities with state facilities, such as community colleges, SUNY campuses and state office buildings, the governor noted in his budget briefing book.

Shaw said the town is compiling information on how much it spends related to Hamburg Gaming, including police and EMS calls.

"The governor’s notion, with all due respect to him, that we derive significant economic benefit from the casino is dubious at best," Shaw said.

He said the facility is self-contained, with restaurants, bar and entertainment on-site.

"The whole concept is to get you in there and keep you there," he said. "It tends to sop up the spendable dollars for recreational purposes."

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