Nation’s poll shows more casinos not panacea for what ails state

The Oneida Indian Nation, which runs Turning Stone Resort and casino in the Town of Verona, is closely following the move to put a constitutional amendment to expand gambling before voters statewide.

A recent poll paid for by the tribe found that among 800 registered New York voters, 50 percent would vote for a constitutional amendment to allow commercial gambling and 47 percent would not. Furthermore, support for lifting the constitutional ban on commercial casinos is soft. Supporters were willing to change their position in answering follow-up questions.

Turning Stone is one of five Indian-run casinos in New York. Should the constitution be amended to allow non-Indian casinos, one possible location is Vernon Downs, which is about five miles from Turning Stone. The Vernon Downs gaming parlor features video lottery terminals, which are similar to electronic slot machines. The owners of Vernon Downs support being allowed to become a full-fledged casino with a mix of machines and table games.

The proposal would amend the state constitution to allow up to seven casinos outside of Indian reservations. No specific locations have been identified yet.

The Oneidas have expressed concern that too many casinos near each other might carve up a market and not enlarging it.

The state Legislature must pass the proposed amendment a second time next year, and then it would go to a statewide vote in November 2013.

"Backers have significant reason to be concerned," The Benenson Group advised the nation, stressing that 60 percent support at the onset is commonly needed for a successful initiative.

Joel Benenson said after voters were told negative things about gaming expansion, just 16 percent said they would definitely vote "yes" and 29 percent said they would definitely vote "no." He told his client that 59 percent of those polled agreed with the opposition argument that additional casinos will not be a panacea for what ails New York.

Nation spokesman Dan Smith said the poll shows a major concern among a majority of New Yorkers is whether the commercial gaming under consideration will, as the Oneida Nation has done, create new long-term jobs, generate sustained economic development, and ensure the revenues will be reinvested back into New York.