By Michael Gormley
ALBANY — As New York moves to expand gambling, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have 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. Albany's past expansions of gambling have resulted in some of Albany's biggest corruption scandals.
But the bill to authorize four casinos negotiated by Cuomo and legislative leaders that passed Friday night won't prohibit campaign contributions from gambling interests. Other proposals that died in the session that ended early Saturday included a package of anti-corruption laws and a plan to publicly finance campaigns with reduced limits on the size of donations and greater accountability.
All of those proposals were aimed at reducing the influence of big-money donors like gambling interests in decisions made by lawmakers.
"It's actually very pathetic," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause of New York. "We've had legislators led off in handcuffs, we have a significant number of Republicans and Democrats behind bars, and the only thing the Legislature is interested in doing is expanding gambling. That's some response to corruption."
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, Common Cause reported.
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 be sited; 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 polices, 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.
The campaign contributors and their donations combined with their lobbying spending included $3.6 million from the New York Gaming Association, which operators harness tracks and video slot machine centers and eyed casinos; $3.3 million from Genting New York, which operates the large video slot machine center at Aqueduct race track and could expand to casinos in seven years; and $1.4 million from the Seneca Indian Nation, which operates a casino and may develop another in the Catskills.
There was no immediate comment from Cuomo, the Senate's Republican majority or the Assembly's Democratic majority.