- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Union of Albany on gambling interest lobbying and the integrity of the state casino siting process.

July 10

The money pouring into the competition to build four casinos in New York should make even the most avid gambler uneasy. What New York is witnessing is legal bribery, in all its shameless glory.

The more than $11 million spent by casino interests over the past two years - a figure sure to rise when this year’s spending is added in - underscores the need for the state Gaming Commission to be at least as open as it has promised to be, if not more, in considering the 17 proposals before it. The commission should also consider the possibility that none of them, ultimately, measure up.


And the millions of dollars flowing into politicians’ and political parties’ campaign accounts highlights, once again, how corrupt this state’s campaign finance system is and how badly it needs to be reined in.

As the New York Public Interest Research Group detailed in a report this week, casino interests spent $6.7 million on lobbying in 2012 and 2013. And they gave generously to politicians, contributing $4.3 million to state and local political committees.

It would be naive in the extreme to imagine that money wasn’t intended to sway public opinion and buy official favor and influence. It would likewise strain credibility to imagine it didn’t accomplish just that.

What it shouldn’t do is influence the Gaming Commission, which plans to select four projects for upstate. And has promised to be transparent in its deliberations.

The commission will need to cut through the lobbying, through all the hype coming from casino developers promising all sorts of transformative projects, and any undue political pressure, and closely analyze these proposals. It should look not just at the quick returns that casinos, as novelties in New York, may well bring, but whether they have long-term staying power. With most of the U.S. casino industry in decline and Moody’s Investors Services recently downgrading the industry’s outlook to negative, the board should be wary of endorsing proposals that could well become vacant eyesores and community liabilities down the road.

As for all that political money exchanging hands, it’s all legal, of course. It is perfectly OK if a casino mogul cuts a check to a governor for as much as $41,100 - as long as it’s made out to his campaign account. It’s fine, too, to hand $10,300 to a state senator or $4,100 to an Assembly member - again, as long as the check is made out to their election fund.

And of course, none of those officials will ever break the rules and pick up the phone to call a member of the Gaming Commission, or wander over to one at an event, or pull aside during a chance meeting with one in Capitol corridor, to suggest that Proposal X deserves special consideration.

If you buy that, you no doubt buy the argument that campaign finance reform, including lowering the contribution limits, is unnecessary.

Just don’t be surprised to find that while you were buying that, someone else was buying your government.

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