ALBANY - New York voters bet big Tuesday on casino gambling as an economic energy shot, agreeing to let seven Las Vegas-style gaming palaces be built around the state, including one that will eventually open in New York City.
In a measure that became a referendum on the job-creating potential and social price of gambling, a constitutional amendment allowing the casinos was approved 57 percent to 43 percent, with 88 percent of the vote counted.
The vote was a major win for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed casinos as a way to aid the long-distressed upstate economy. The first four casinos would be built upstate, at sites to be chosen by developers. A New York City casino would be built in seven years and possibly more could be built in the suburbs, although some casino operators say the law could allow that sooner.
"This vote will keep hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year in neighboring states right here in New York, while increasing revenue for local schools, lowering property tax taxes, and bringing proper regulation to the industry," Cuomo said Tuesday.
But while Cuomo hailed the measure as a way to generate jobs and tax revenue - his administration even reworded the ballot language to emphasize those disputed benefits - critics from progressive good-government groups to the state Conservative Party and the state's Roman Catholic bishops warned that the governor's projections were inflated and the social cost to families and communities would be profound.
"I think it's a bad day in the social history of a proud state," said Stephen Shafer of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, one of the many grassroots organizations with little funding fighting a multimillion-dollar campaign by business, union and political leaders. "I can't be too gracious because it wasn't a fair fight. ... I think New York state is being taken for a ride."
The Democratic governor secured broad support among organizations that would get a piece of the gambling revenue, including businesses hoping for spinoff effects and unions that would benefit from construction and more school aid Cuomo framed the referendum not as a question on gambling, but as a way to capture what he said is $1.2 billion a year in current gambling revenue that New Yorkers now spend at casinos elsewhere, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Canada.
Cuomo's budget office says the state would take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education, in a repeat of the strategy that approved lottery games. The rest would go to communities near casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction.
The issue will now go to Cuomo's Gaming Commission, which will work with proposals from casino operators. They will choose locations for what are planned to be resort destinations with hotels and convention space. One would be in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area.
Tuesday's referendum hit New Yorkers just as public sentiment started to favor casinos after years of being split over the issue.
An October Siena College poll found the Cuomo administration's rosy rewording of the referendum - to promise jobs, tax relief and school aid - worked. The rewrite pushed support to 55 percent.
The state Board of Elections also took the unusual step of moving the referendum from last position to the top of the ballot, a more advantageous spot for constitutional questions put to voters.
An organized and well-funded campaign helped secure the vote. Cuomo had provided guarantees of exclusive gambling territory to Indian tribes that operate five casinos under federal law and other agreements to sideline operators of video slot machine centers at race tracks.
That sidelined the big money that was expected to counter supporters' TV ad blitz. One pro-casino, statewide spot financed by the NY Jobs Now Committee featured a hard-hatted everyman, with a script saying the proposal "would start to bring that money back to New York and create over 10,000 good-paying new jobs in New York state."
Critics criticized the referendum's unusually rosy, one-side view of casinos.
Now, the issue moves from broad generalities to specifics. Cuomo's Gaming Commission will prepare requests for proposals from casino operators, which will submit proposals. The result will be choices for operating casino complexes that would include hotels, and specific locations for casinos chosen by developers.
That process will take months and could be delayed further to lawsuits challenging the process. Cuomo hopes to use the casino plans as part of his 2014 campaign to show he has addressed a major 2010 campaign promise to turnaround the upstate economy.
NY voters approve veterans' benefit
(AP) - New York voters have approved a state constitutional amendment to ensure additional civil service credit to disabled military veterans appointed or promoted to a civil service position.
The constitution gives veterans additional credit on civil service exams of 5 points for an original appointment and 2.5 points for a promotion.
Disabled veterans get double those points.
However, veterans have been eligible for only one grant of additional credit.
The amendment creates an exception for veterans who are certified disabled after getting the initial, smaller veterans' credit, pushing them up to 10 points altogether for either an initial appointment or promotion.
Voters say yes to localities borrowing more
(AP) - New York voters have approved a proposition that allows local governments to borrow beyond their legal debt limits for another 10 years to accommodate sewer facility projects.
With New York's decades-old sewer system in the midst of a major overhaul and tax bases dwindling, Tuesday's vote on Proposition 3 gives localities more flexibility.
Localities have debt limits based on their budgets and the revenue they can raise by taxes. The idea is to make sure taxpayers can afford the multimillion dollar sewer projects.
Supports say raising the limit for another 10 years is for the public good and essential for growth, even if it means more costs.
Voters approve Adk mine land swap
(AP) - New York voters have approved a proposal for an Adirondack mineral company to expand its Essex County pit mine onto 200 acres of state-owned land in exchange for 1,500 acres elsewhere.
NYCO Minerals Inc. says it will restore the 200 acres and return it to the state in about 10 years, after it blasts out the wollastonite, a mineral used in ceramics, plastics and paints. The company will also give the state 1,500 acres including mountain peaks and trout streams.
Proposition 5 had strong support locally, where the company employs about 100 people, but it split environmental groups.
The Sierra Club and Protect The Adirondacks said it would set a bad precedent. But the Adirondack Council said the 1,500 acres are worth far more ecologically and recreationally than the 200 acres.
Voters approve land title proposition
(AP) - New York voters have approved a proposition to give up the state's claim to the property of 216 private and public landowners in the Hamilton County hamlet of Raquette Lake.
The landowners have been vexed with disputed property titles since the 1800s, when a series of clerical errors left it unclear if the state or the landowners had title.
Under Proposition 4, the state will release its claim to the parcels in return for undeveloped land elsewhere, with the landowners paying fees to cover the new acquisition.
The parcels include private homes, businesses, a school, firehouse, waste transfer station and marina.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the state Legislature target the historic Marion River Carry for acquisition. It's part of a canoe route that connects Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in the central Adirondacks.
Voters reject raising judges' retirement age
(AP) - Judges won't remain on the state's highest court and principal trial courts until 80 years old after voters rejected a referendum to raise the age limit a decade.
That would have postponed mandatory retirement for four of the seven judges currently on the Court of Appeals, who are appointed to 14-year terms.
State Supreme Court justices, who are elected to 14-year-terms, can now get three two-year extensions beyond 70, provided they get a certificate that they're capable and needed by New York's overcrowded courts.
Approval would have allowed them five extensions.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman says the lower limit is out of date considering modern life spans, depriving the courts of expertise.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't taken a position on the referendum, which could have limited his appointments to the top court.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.