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State on its way to casino gambling

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New York state is one step closer in a years-long process that could bring non-Native casino gaming to seven locations statewide.

Only one member of the north country’s legislative delegation, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, voted against the constitutional amendment in the early morning Thursday. The measure must pass the Legislature again in 2013, and then must be approved by a public referendum.

Even those who supported the measure were quick to add caveats about the potential pitfalls, which include gambling addictions and other community concerns.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to create jobs and bring revenue into the state through tourism,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “At the same time, there are concerns.”

Mrs. Ritchie based her position, in part, on a survey that she posted to her website. A majority of respondents not only support an expansion of casino gambling, they support a casino in Alexandria Bay.

Though a developer is trying to secure the right to build a gaming facility in the village, there appears to be little support in Albany for the move, according to sources with knowledge of the gaming industry.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, supported the constitutional amendment because of the fruit the negotiations bore: The state will open only seven casinos. There are seven so-called racinos, with video gambling machines but no live tables, in the state.

“It looks like it’s lining up along the lines that we might just convert existing racinos to full-fledged casinos,” Mrs. Russell said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rebutted the suggestion that racinos would be converted into casinos at a news conference in Albany on Thursday.

State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, voted to approve the measure despite what he described as a “lack of specificity.”

Mr. Griffo noted that a second vote in the Legislature would allow time to flesh out some of the details — for example, where the casinos would be located. He added it would be a good idea to avoid “saturation” of the gaming market.

“I agree that gaming is here, and that we’re not going to make it go away by saying we’re not going to deal with it,” Mr. Griffo said. “It already exists.”

Mr. Blankenbush told the Times in December that he would support letting a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling go to public referendum, which requires two “yes” votes in the Legislature.

But he ended up voting no on the bills Thursday morning.

He said the way the constitutional amendment was written was too vague; it didn’t specify where the casinos would be located, it didn’t give local residents a say in the placement of those casinos and it didn’t specify where the casino revenue would go. Lottery revenue, for example, goes toward education.

Mr. Blankenbush rejected the suggestion that redistricting might have affected his decision. Turning Stone, a Native casino that could stand to lose if non-Native casino gambling were allowed in the state, is in the new district Mr. Blankenbush would run for in November.

“No,” he said simply, and wouldn’t elaborate.

He didn’t dismiss the possibility of voting yes on the amendment when it came up in 2013.

“Maybe next year, when that bill comes out and it’s more specific, maybe I’ll be happier with that bill,” Mr. Blankenbush said. “I just thought it was loosely written.”

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