ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Five years from now, New Yorkers may be able to crisscross the state, stopping at one gambling facility after another.
The future driving tour could begin at a new racetrack in far western New York, in the Niagara County town of Porter, where bettors could play the ponies or use debit cards on slotlike machines known as video lottery terminals, or VLTs.
The next stop could be the booming Seneca Pengeluaran HK casino in Niagara Falls, followed by a short jaunt to downtown Buffalo to visit the Seneca’s other casino.
Or, those who prefer the country could beat it down to the Senecas’ third casino on their nearby Cattaraugus reservation.
The next stop could be in Batavia, 35 miles east of Buffalo, at its refurbished racetrack and VLT operation, followed by Hamburg’s Buffalo Raceway and casino-like gambling rooms.
An hour of so from Batavia, gamblers can make a quick stop at another VLT-filled racetrack southeast of Rochester.
If the horses start to get tiring, travelers can head east on the highway to Verona, near Utica, to Turning Stone, the Oneidas’ ever-expanding Las Vegas-style casino. Nearby is another track with 500 or so VLTs.
Ninety miles east is Saratoga Race Course, the continent’s oldest racetrack, and more slotlike machines. Drivers could then take their winnings down the Thruway to two more Indian-owned casinos in the Catskills.
The final destinations downstate could be Yonkers Racetrack at its 2,500 VLTs in Westchester and New York City’s two racetracks, Aqueduct and Belmont Park.
This may sound far-fetched. But plans are underway to make all this and maybe more happen by 2006.
The Seneca Nation of Indians and its bold plan to build three new casinos in western New York may serve as an important catalyst for New York state to give Nevada a run for the nation’s betting dollars.
Whether such a gambling expansion happens could become clearer in the months ahead, if the Senecas get approval from state and federal agencies to enter the casino business.
”I think New York is largely untapped,” said Graham Orr, chief financial officer of Magna Entertainment. ”We’re hopeful over time, and with a little more liberal-leaning society, to expand and enhance wagering opportunities in New York.”
The Toronto-area company, which recently won a contract to buy the lucrative New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., wants to build Porter’s racetrack and betting hub.
No matter what the future holds, one thing is certain: New York is already a huge gambling market.
The state contains 14,300 lottery retailers, 3,100 Quick Draw outlets the keno-like lottery game critics call ”video crack” soon-to-be 10 racetracks and 229 Off Track Betting outlets, where gamblers can drop money on races across the country.
The Oneida’s Turning Stone, one of the nation’s busiest Indian casinos, attracted 3.5 million visitors last year. The 90,000-square-foot gambling facility consists of 1,750 video lottery terminals, 120 table games and an 1,100-seat bingo hall, as well as seven restaurants, three golf courses, an 800-seat showroom and a 285-room hotel.
”Gambling in New York is a major business,” said Michael Hoblock, chairman of the state Racing and Wagering Board, which regulates racetracks, charities and other gambling venues.
Neither the Legislature nor the Pataki administration, which is increasingly looking to Indian gambling, has a long-term, comprehensive plan when it comes to gambling.
That’s because both state law and the state constitution forbid casino gambling and racetrack slotlike games. Technically, only specific games, such as bingo by nonprofit groups, are allowed, Hoblock said.
He predicts more Indian casinos in coming years but doubts legislators will ever try to amend the constitution to allow non-Indian ones.
”Every poll says people may say they favor casinos, but when asked if they approve one close by, they say no,” Hoblock said.
The state’s horse racing industry, which employs about 40,000 people, doesn’t welcome the competition.
”I think we have a few tracks in the state that are on the brink of collapse, and more in-state competition would probably push them over the bring,” said Dick Powell, a racing industry consultant.
Those in the racing industry want permission to put VLTs on tracks. Racing insiders believe the Seneca deal will help their lobbying campaign in bringing the controversial devices, which look and sound like slots but use debit cards instead of money.
”I’d rather not see casinos at all,” said state Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, who nonetheless voted for the Seneca casino deal in June. ”But this is the real world, and everybody is going to casinos, including my priest.”