New York City voters could have the biggest say in deciding whether to authorize seven Las Vegas-style casinos, even though the first four would go upstate and it could be years before the city sees its first.
A light turnout was expected generally Tuesday in the off-year election but New York City, which is picking a new mayor after 12 years with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is expected to account for up to 42 percent of the statewide turnout, said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll.
New York City's influence is notable because it is among the places that may not be affected immediately if the casino expansion is approved. One casino would be in the Southern Tier near Binghamton, two in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson Valley region, and another in the Saratoga Springs-Albany area.
A New York City casino isn't expected to be built for at least seven years under a deal that cemented legislative support for the proposal, although some casino operators say the law could allow for a city casino sooner.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't allow specific sites to be chosen ahead of the election, saying that will be up to the casino developers. His budget office says the state will take in $430 million in new casino revenue, with $238 million for education in a repeat of the strategy that won approval of lottery games. The rest would go to communities near casinos to compensate for public safety and social costs and for tax reduction.
Supporters say casinos will recapture more than $1 billion a year now spent at casinos out of state. Boosters held news conferences statewide touting bipartisan support.
The latest Siena-New York Times poll appears to show the promotional efforts have paid off. After years of polls showing New Yorkers split over the notion of expanding casino gambling, the poll released a week ago found 60 percent of New York City voters support the question.
Siena polls have shown increased support for Cuomo's casino referendum since it was re-worded by the his administration over the summer to promise more jobs, tax revenue and school aid — all benefits disputed by opponents. The rewrite drew outrage from newspaper editorial writers and other critics who likened the gambit to loading the dice for approval. Critics noted there's no mention in the proposition of the downsides of casinos, including problem gambling and crime.
"We've seen for two months running that the re-wording of the ballot is much more effective for getting support than the generic question," Greenberg said, referring to the simple question of whether there should be more casinos.
Critics including good-government groups, the state Conservative Party and the state's Catholic bishops argue that Cuomo's estimates of benefits are inflated and that the social cost to families and communities will be profound.
If voters reject casino gambling, the law will automatically approve more video slot machine centers.
"It's a tough lift, but hopefully we have a shot," said state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, a leader of the opposition.