Westchester Lawmakers Rail Against Proposed Casinos In Orange County

A referendum that could bring casinos to Orange County meets strong resistance from Westchester business leaders, politicians.

If you visited Empire City Casino in Yonkers on Wednesday you may have heard, above the usual din of slot machines and table games, the sound of protest from local business and political leaders. What was all the fuss about? The potential for casinos to open up in nearby Orange County.

Leaders from The Business Council of Westchester along with lawmakers including Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer (D –Yonkers), Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), the chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, and Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins—who was profiled in Westchester Magazine‘s September issue—gathered at Empire City Casino to implore the New York State Gaming Commission to reject any license for a casino in Orange County.

Their concern stems from a 2013 public referendum (added to the New York State Legislature’s decision in 2012-2013 to legalize gambling in the State) to allow as many as seven full-scale casinos in the state as part of a plan to create jobs in economically distressed areas of upstate New York.  The idea of a casino in Orange County—not typically thought of as a “distressed area”—is not sitting well with Westchester leaders.

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John Ravitz.

“Building any gaming facility so close to ones that already exist is a losing bet for New York,” said John Ravitz, executive vice president and COO of The Business Council of Westchester. “Allowing a developer to get a gaming license so close to Yonkers would essentially cannibalize an already successful business.”

Taryn Duffy, director of public affairs for Empire City Casino shared Ravitz’s sentiments. She told us: “Like many others, we believe a casino in Orange County would not only put at risk nearly 1,400 jobs and the $300 million in annual revenue Empire City Casino generates for the state, it would also negate the intent of the gaming legislation to bring targeted economic development to high-need areas upstate. The Gaming Commission was created to ensure a holistic approach is taken to racing, gaming and wagering throughout the state. If the legislation is implemented as intended, the state will be able to revitalize the areas in greatest need without putting current jobs or state revenues at risk.”

“If the state’s sole intent of expanding gaming was to create jobs and revenue regardless of location, they could have easily done that by issuing full gaming licenses to Empire City and other existing casinos,” she added.

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A decision from the Gaming Commission is expected soon.

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