I once lived with a cat who would roll over on command. But even he would have been embarrassed by the alacrity with which the Facility Location Board acceded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request to conduct a procurement for an additional casino in the so-called Southern Tier.
The Board was appointed by the state’s Gaming Commission to solicit competitive bids, and then evaluate the bids and recommend up to four proposals for gaming licenses. The Board’s recommendations were to then go to the Gaming Commission which had the final say in awarding contracts. The casino law divided upstate New York into three regions, one of which, the Southern Tier, looked like a legislative gerrymandered district. It stretched from the Finger Lakes to the Binghamton area.
The Board announced its recommendations on December 17 and, surprisingly, did not recommend four licenses but only three. Their choice for the Southern Tier was the Lago proposal near the Finger Lakes. This provoked an outcry from those closer to Binghamton, particularly since on the same day, Cuomo announced that the state would not allow hydrofracking in the area.
The most vociferous opponent was Jeff Gural who was a bidder and the owner of Tioga Downs, a harness track that also has a racino. Gural is a very interesting character for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of any hesitancy in expressing his opinions on a wide range of matters. His immediate complaint was that he had spent $800,000 to promote the constitutional amendment ballot question that would permit non-Indian casinos in New York. He said that he embarked on that expenditure at the request of one Andrew Cuomo.
Given his out-front advocacy on the Governor’s behalf (according to Gural and I have no reason to doubt him), it was widely assumed that his proposal was a lock to get one of the four licenses. (If you would like a thorough look at the entire casino discussion, go to Alan Mann’s blog Left at the Gate. No media outlet is as comprehensive and informative on the topic, and witty to boot.)
The Facility Location Board’s announcement of its recommendations, along with the ensuing Q&A, left the impression that their work was the result of thoughtful deliberation. They explicitly considered the saturation of the Northeast casino market in deciding to make only three awards and not the permitted four. With respect to the Southern Tier proposals, they could not have been more explicit – they were not saying “three at this time – it was Lago or nothing.”
That resolve, as well as any sense that this is actually an independent body, dissipated when the Governor asked the Board to do another procurement – and do it quickly. The Board met last night for all of 15 minutes, and unanimously agreed to the Governor’s “request.” There was the expected bleating by each member as to how this did not mean they would actually make another award or that Gural would be the choice.
Right. I am sure there are deep-pocketed casino interests who are going to expend lots of time and money after seeing how politicized this process has become.
There were two interesting sidelights from the meeting. The meeting went into an executive session after the public portion to discuss “litigation.” Hmmmm. A casino procurement process that ends in litigation?
The other was a comment by Board member Bill Thompson who joked that the Board’s salary should be doubled if they are going to continue their work. While I think those who volunteer their time to do government work deserve credit, I was also thinking that they’ll be compensated in other ways, and I do not mean in the hereafter. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Governor had actually appointed Thompson to two government positions that same day. That should salve the pain of uncompensated work.