Provision would add ‘skill’ to VLTs

Measure could create some 100 jobs and increase education revenue

A provision in the state budget gives New York's racinos the green light to offer an expanded array of electronic gaming featuring elements of "skill" at video lottery terminal facilities.
"The provision could include such games as certain types of electronic blackjack, three-card poker and other video lottery games where an element of skill and player interaction may be incorporated into games of chance," said state Gaming Commission spokesman Lee Park in an email. "In essence, it is simply codification of case law, for the avoidance of doubt."

The measure — included in the Revenue budget bill introduced over the weekend — was meant to guard against legal challenges asserting these types of games involving some degree of "skill" were unauthorized. VLTs, popularly known as video slot machines, are purely games of chance.

James Featherstonhaugh, a prominent lobbyist who is an owner of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, said he plans to provide the new skill-based games to his customers as soon as possible.

"We think our customers are looking forward to it," Featherstonhaugh said. "We can't wait."

The Hotel Trades Council union, which represents racino works and made passage of the provision its top budget priority, said it will create more than 100 new jobs at facilities represented by the HTC, as well as added tax revenue for education.

"This language helps protect hundreds of millions in gaming revenue that flows to the state, adds $20 million a year to the budget and creates good middle class jobs," said Josh Gold, the union's director of political and strategic affairs.

The Gaming Commission maintains the provision would bring in $20 million in its first year, and $40 million in subsequent years. But critics of the gaming industry say the northeastern market is growing saturated and doubt its long-term business prospects.

New York has VLTs at its nine racinos, but the change would apply to only six, according to Park: Saratoga Casino and Raceway as well as Resorts World Casino New York City in Queens, the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway, Monticello Casino and Raceway, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. Three others would be excluded from the provision because they lie in the Seneca Nation's gaming exclusivity zone.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the provision in his budget proposal. Former Speaker Sheldon Silver removal from his post earlier this year amid corruption charges meant a well-known opponent of the gambling industry was removed from leadership of the chamber. At the same time, two new gambling parlors that would benefit from the added gaming options are set to open on Long Island, a stronghold of Senate Republicans, which is represented in part by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Other interests that pushed for the provision included the Malaysian gaming giant Genting, which operates Resorts World, the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., and Yonkers Racing Corp., according to lobbying disclosures.