New York state sued over wording of referendum on expansion of casino gaming

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
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— The state Board of Elections broke the law when it put glowing language into a referendum allowing casinos in New York, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the state Supreme Court in Albany County.

Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder, who is personally opposed to an expansion of gambling in the state, is arguing in his suit that the state BOE exceeded its authority when it included advocacy language in the referendum. A poll released Monday by the Siena Research Institute demonstrated that the positive language swayed public favor in support of the cause.

The referendum language, which has been criticized by good government groups, says, “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?”

The suit asks the court to prevent the referendum vote from happening and wants the state BOE to stop advocating in favor of the amendment. If a referendum is held, he wants the advocacy language removed from the ballot.

Snyder argued that the language was added solely to get voters to support the amendment. “So long as they are an arm of the state government, they must maintain a position of neutrality and impartiality,” he said of the state BOE in his filing.

A spokesman for the state BOE did not respond late Tuesday to a request for comment.

In Snyder’s court filing, he cited the Siena poll as evidence that the language has a persuasive impact.

Asked simply whether they support amending the constitution to allow seven live-table casinos on non-Indian lands, New Yorkers are evenly split, with 46 percent against and 46 percent in favor. But when the question is asked the way it will appear on the ballot this fall — which frames the issue as a job creator, a source of education aid and a way to lower property taxes — support increases by 9 percentage points to a 55 percent majority of voters.

He also notes that despite the gambling amendment being the last of six amendments recently approved by the state Legislature, it was vaulted to the first listed on the ballot this election. Snyder, who is representing himself, argues in his court filing that as a taxpayer opposed to commercial gambling, he has standing to file his lawsuit.

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