Politicians make sure they win gambling industry jackpot

It was revealed last week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders quietly deleted a proposed ban on accepting campaign contributions from casino operators.

Cuomo had said, as recently as June 6, that he wanted to rid his casino proposal of politics. As The Associated Press noted, Albany’s past expansions of gambling have resulted in some of its biggest corruption scandals.

But the bill that passed June 21, authorizing four casinos negotiated by Cuomo and legislative leaders, won’t prohibit campaign contributions from gambling interests.

Not all of the details about what killed the proposal are known. As usual, the majority of key negotiations were done behind closed doors.

What is known is some state politicians argued limiting campaign contributions may violate constitutional rights, backed up by some decisions in other states.

However, other officials said there is leeway for laws that limit contributions in an attempt to reduce corruption, and businesses or people can face contribution limits if they have some type of business with the government.

Of course, only a sucker would believe a disagreement on the finer, legal points of an issue and its consequences – and public reaction – would keep these politicians from acting.

Instead, the politicians are likely betting money will continue to roll in from the gambling industry.

In the past two years alone, the gambling industry spent more than $2 million on campaign contributions in Albany and another $14 million on lobbying, according to Common Cause of New York – a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization.

The campaign contributions included $242,000 to Cuomo; $404,000 to the state Republican Campaign Committee; $372,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee; $76,000 to Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic, a Republican representing the Catskills, where one or two casinos are likely to be placed; and $59,000 to Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat from Yonkers, where a harness track with a large video slot-machine center is located.

In addition, the lobbying group formed to run promotional TV ads for Cuomo and his policies, the Committee to Save New York, received $2 million a year ago from gambling interests. The donations were made just weeks before Cuomo called for expansion of gambling.

Considering how vocal state politicians have been about the need to combat corruption, some observers are bound to be surprised nothing was done. But that’s the way the game is played in New York.