2012-01-27 / Top Stories

Cuomo Defends Convention Center Proposal

While it appears that New Yorkers still love their governor, a new poll shows that voters don’t share Andrew Cuomo’s support for a huge convention center that a casino developer wants to build at the aging Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park.

The Siena College poll released last week finds that 57 percent of New Yorkers oppose the plan to build the nation’s largest convention center at Aqueduct.

The Democratic governor made that convention center plan a centerpiece of his State of the State address earlier this month as part of his effort to increase state tax revenue and boost jobs as the economy remains weak.

Just 38 percent of those who responded to the pollsters supported the idea, even though Cuomo made it clear that the Genting Group would pay for it, requiring only some regulatory approvals and a 20-acre land swap. Malaysia-based Genting is one of the world’s largest casino developers and is operating video slot machines at Aqueduct now under a state contract.

Cuomo had said the center could increase tourism by attracting conventions. A 3,000-room hotel is part of the plan, along with a train connecting the site to nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Cuomo dismissed opposition, saying voters think the proposal for now “sounds like a big expensive government boondoggle.”

“I think when they understand the facts that this is really all about the number of jobs and the ... lack of cost for the state, I think they will be overwhelmingly supportive,” Cuomo said Monday. He said New Yorkers will then realize “this is not the state building a convention center at all.” The Democrat also distanced himself a bit from the project on Monday, noting that Genting won the video slot machine contract before he took office and is simply following through on the company’s original convention center idea on state land it leases for 30 years.

“I was not part of that original decision,” Cuomo told reporters. “This was all done before I got here, so I inherited the situation ... the question now is to allow it to expand on land they now control.”

He also said his proposal to change the state constitution to allow casinos off American Indian land will bring sense and better management to the state’s gambling policy that he called “a hodgepodge quilt.”

The poll found just more than half of New Yorkers support Cuomo’s proposal for allowing non-Indian casino gambling, potentially giving Genting a huge inside track for a casino serving New York City. The poll found 53 percent of New Yorkers supported Atlantic City- and Las Vegas-style casino gambling, with 42 percent opposed.

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