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N.Y. ballot wording puts spin on casinos

Referendum paints a rosy image, critics say

ALBANY, N.Y. — Want lower taxes? More money for your schools? More jobs?

A referendum on the November ballot promises all that and more to New Yorkers as politicians seek to change the state constitution to allow seven Las Vegas-style casinos.

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The rosy language is raising some eyebrows among good-government advocates and those opposed to gambling.

‘‘It has more spin than a roulette wheel,’’ said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The optimistic theme of the referendum makes no mention that those claims are disputed by some researchers and doesn’t note the decline of some casinos from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to those run by Indian tribes, or the rise in problem gambling that can shatter families and increase crime.

The measure written by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature starts with three casinos upstate. It reads:

‘‘The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?’’

By comparison, an early draft mirrored most of New York’s dry, if dense, referendums. Before it was recast by Cuomo and the Legislature, the referendum stated simply: ‘‘The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos. If approved, the amendment would permit commercial casino gambling in New York state.’’

Referendums are supposed to summarize laws passed by the Legislature to change the constitution. But the added benefits of tax breaks and school aid aren’t listed in the law. ‘‘This one seems particularly heavily spun,’’ said Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz. ‘‘I don’t think there’s anything illegal about it. . . . It’s OK, but I don’t think it’s good.’’

He noted, for example, that the other four constitutional questions to be put to voters on the November ballot don’t read as advocacy to persuade voters. Those involve Adirondack land swaps and sewer projects.

Benjamin said a group could sue over the casino referendum language, but neither the law nor the constitution requires an objective presentation of an issue to voters.

No one is taking credit for the writing. The Board of Elections says it merely approves language worked out by the governor and Legislature.

The referendum’s first, concise draft was written by the Attorney General’s Office months ago. It was certified by the state Board of Elections in July, said John Conklin, spokesman for Board of Elections.

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa De Rosa confirmed that the governor’s office consulted with the Board of Elections on all six of the ballot proposals as part of ‘‘longstanding practice.’’ But she said the Board of Elections, an executive branch agency under Cuomo headed by Democratic and Republican appointees, ‘‘ultimately voted on and adopted by the Board of Elections.’’

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