New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest casino plan appears to leave the state’s existing gaming operations out in the cold.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech last month brought a measure of disappointment and confusion to many who thought they had seen the future of gaming in the Empire State, one that included  table games in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, if not a full-blown destination resort somewhere within the confines of its five boroughs.

But the plan now is to limit full-scale casino gaming to up to three new casinos in upstate New York. Table games are currently limited to the state’s five tribal gaming facilities, which means there isn’t a live table game east of Turning Stone in west –central Verona or south of Akwesasne Mohawk Casino on the Canadian border in the northern-most part of the state. Given that the racetrack gaming facilities in Aqueduct and Yonkers also lack hotel rooms, true destination resort gaming is still an out-of-state experience for New York City-area residents.

Gov. Cuomo has not specified where the new facilities might be, though one would have to think the Catskills are at the top of the list, as the region best accommodates the Governor’s stated goal of driving traffic from the city north. Any legalization of table games still has to run through the constitutional amendment process, which would include a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment that has already been passed by the last session of the Legislature. State law mandates that amendments have to be approved by successive sessions of the Legislature before being voted on by the public, which means the law could change after this November’s election if all goes according to plan and the amendment is re-approved in the current session.

The Governor’s stated aim is to get large national casino operators to bid for gaming rights, the winners being selected by a gaming commission that he will form. This would appear to leave the state’s existing gaming operations out in the cold, which is a tough blow for the companies that have built businesses on a very strict regime of high taxes and tight product restrictions.  But such is life in the gaming industry, which rarely evolves in classic commercial playbook fashion.

I can imagine the states of New Jersey and Connecticut thought they caught a break when they heard the Governor’s new plan. Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Atlantic City will still have a shot at the New York City market, even if something compelling gets built in the Catskills. Having lived in this area most of my life, I’m pretty sure that anything beyond the Catskills will be a reach for people in and around the City, which basically takes the better part of an hour to exit on a typical getaway day.

The whole notion of “upstate” is unusually complicated for the City. You can still hear press accounts from city media that refer to Yonkers, yes, Yonkers, as “upstate,” and that’s a town that borders the Bronx. Another 370 miles north and you hit Canada. The state is huge and, biased though I may be, unbelievably gorgeous through and through (the Watkins Glen Canyon…don’t miss it; I almost did and I’ve been here over 50 years). The problem with getting people out of the City is there’s just so much to do there, and all but the most devoted gamblers will take some serious selling to make the trek upstate.  Which is why many found the logic of a New York City gaming resort so strong, including the Governor, apparently, at one point, when he was contemplating a massive convention center at Aqueduct.


About two months after I started covering this industry in 1995, Frank Fahrenkopf, whose pending retirement was announced last month, became the founding chief executive of the American Gaming Association. At the time, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission was on the radar and the American gaming industry was in dire need of a central organization that could assemble and communicate the case for legal, regulated gambling in the U.S. With his Nevada roots and background in gaming law and politics at the national level, Fahrenkopf had the resume, but he also had something else that truly elevated this industry: a genuine eye for, and interest in, credible information and how it could both demystify gaming and reassure those who had an open mind to it. For an industry that was only then emerging as a national presence, future growth depended heavily, then as now, on a deeper understanding of problem gambling and the full range of economic and social impacts of gaming. No one did more to build the case with integrity and skill than Frank Fahrenkopf, who will leave the AGA in June as a globally important and indispensible resource for this industry.