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Gambling Amendment in New York Contested

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - A Brooklyn lawyer wants a constitutional amendment on New York's November ballot pulled because of its "advocacy language."

Proposal One, as it is known, would eliminate a prohibition in the New York Constitution against Las Vegas-style gaming and allow up to seven casinos in the Empire State. It is one of six constitutional amendments that will go before voters Nov. 5.

Eric Snyder, representing himself, says in Albany County Supreme Court that the Board of Elections acted beyond its scope in putting a positive economic spin on the proposal.

He contends the Board of Elections took the amendment's dry, original language and dressed it up to encourage voter approval.

"The Board of Elections exceeded its authority when it included the advocacy language in the gambling amendment," the 11-page complaint states.

In violation of the state constitution, the proposal's wording extols job growth, school aid and lower property taxes, according to the complaint. Snyder says it "constitutes dissemination of the Board of Election's position on casino gambling at the public's expense."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set the wheels in motion for the amendment through a program bill submitted to the Legislature last year. In it, Cuomo allegedly said that casino gambling "has significant potential to be a major economic engine in New York state," through revenue, tourism and jobs that now are lost to neighboring states, Canada and Native American casinos.

Snyder says, however, that neither the governor nor the Legislature "requested the preparation of any reports or studies as to the effect, if any, the gambling amendment will have on jobs, property taxes or aid for schools."

The Board of Elections then made changes at a meeting in July after having received language on the gambling amendment from the attorney general's office, which advises on statewide ballots, Snyder says.

Those changes indicate that the amendment would authorize up to seven casinos "for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenue generated," according to the complaint.

Snyder says this advocacy language, "standing alone, constitutes statements to induce a positive vote on the gambling amendment."

Indeed, a poll released Sept. 30 by Siena College in suburban Albany compared voter sentiment on the casino amendment to its ballot wording.

Voters were evenly split, 46 percent to 46 percent, when presented with a dry-language amendment, pollster Steven Greenberg said. The addition of advocacy language, however, tipped the balance to 55-42 percent.

"Given the importance voters place on jobs and revenues, it's no surprise that tying them to the amendment increases support and overcomes meaningful concerns about the sufficiency of existing gambling outlets and potential societal problems from casinos," Greenberg said in a statement.

Snyder contends that Board of Elections co-chairman Douglas Kellner indicated the changes to the amendment wording came after "extensive discussions and careful vetting."

Kellner and fellow co-chairman James Walsh are the defendants in Snyder's lawsuit.

The complaint also contends that the board made gaming the first amendment on the ballot, ditching the custom of numbering ballot proposals according to how they are approved by the Legislature. The gambling amendment was the last of the six propositions to be passed by the Legislature, Snyder says.

Noting that he is "opposed to the proliferation of commercial gambling within the State of New York," Snyder wants the Board of Elections enjoined from allowing a vote on the gambling amendment.

He also wants the board blocked from disseminating "any further information, at public expense, to advocate in favor of the gambling amendment."

The Board of Elections did not return a request for comment sent by email Thursday evening.

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