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December 08, 2016
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The art of the deal

A funny thing happened on the way to placing Proposition 1 on the ballot in New York State in the upcoming general election. Proposition 1 is the proposal to amend the state’s constitution to allow casino-style gaming.

When New Yorkers step into the voting booth on November 5, they will find these words first among five separate propositions listed on the ballot: “The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?”

In case you didn’t know, the original ballot initiative used the following more neutral language: “The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos. If approved the amendment would permit commercial casino gambling in New York State.”

The New York Daily News called the language of the proposition a “pro-casino campaign advertisement.”

The Coalition against Gaming in New York said, “These [words] are not literally lies, but when read quickly are extremely deceptive and one-sided.”

NYPIRG, the New York Public Interest Research Group, accused the state of “putting its thumb on the scale” in support of the casino proposition.

Further, the premier placement of the proposition on the ballot has been called into question. Other propositions had already been accepted for the ballot when this one—a late arrival—was moved to first position.

While the revised language was officially approved by the New York State Board of Elections, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of politics and maneuvering went into making the deal, which involved negotiations among the governor’s office, key legislative leaders, Indian gaming interests and others. (Not to mention the casino interests that routinely pour money into lobbying efforts around the country, and reportedly contributed more than $3 million in campaign funds to Cuomo and key New York legislators since 2011.)

For some enlightening reading by investigative reporter Paul Davies, whose credentials include writing for The Wall Street Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, as well as newspapers in Connecticut, Florida and Maryland, see his 32-page online book titled “Stacked Deck: Inside the Politics of New York’s Dishonest Casino Plan.” (

We at The River Reporter count ourselves among those who believe the revised language unfairly stacks the deck in favor of a pro-casino gambling outcome.

As evidence, you only have to view the results of a survey of registered voters, taken at the end of September by pollsters at Siena College. When they presented neutral language about casino gambling, asking respondents if they “support or oppose passing an amendment to the state constitution to allow non-Indian, Las Vegas style casinos to be build in New York,” respondents were evenly divided (46% to 46%), but when asked about the actually final ballot language, emphasizing jobs creation and revenue enhancement, a majority (55%) said they would support the proposition, while a minority (42%) opposed it.

When you go to the polls to vote on Proposition 1, remember that the spin-laden language you see is designed to give New York’s political leaders the outcome they wanted.