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Proposition One: Voters decide on casino expansion plan

By ANNA MEILER

VERNON, N.Y. (WKTV) -- When voters turn over their ballot over on Nov. 5, they can choose whether or not to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo's casino expansion plan.

"This is a jobs bill, and whether you're living here or living in Tioga or in the Catskills, people Upstate everywhere need jobs," said Jeff Gural, the CEO of Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs, two racinos in Upstate New York.

On Tuesday, he kicked off his "Get Out and Vote" campaign, backing the referendum called Proposition One. If it passes, seven casino licenses will be distributed in New York State. Four are reserved for Upstate New York.

"Four Upstate casinos will generate about -- what'd they say? 10,000 jobs --  about 10,000jobs. That's a combination of people physically actually working in the casinos, plus spillover," he said.

The other three licenses are reserved for Downstate New York. However, they won't be distributed for at least seven years to give the Upstate casinos a chance to thrive.

Gural is pushing for the referendum so he can apply for a license to turn Tioga Downs into a full-fledged casino. He made his appeal at Vernon Downs, but he can't expand that location because of an agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation that prohibits competition within 10 counties of their Turning Stone Casino located next door.

He already has the $70 million expansion planned, hoping to add poker tables, a hotel, a parking garage, a spa and more. He said it will have a positive ripple effect on the Upstate economy beyond jobs. The casinos will pay out millions of dollars in school aid, property tax relief and county distribution. In Oneida County, that figure totals an estimated $19 million in one year.

But, some skeptics said the plan has underlying problems that aren't being discussed.

"While it brings positive things for the area, for the state. I think it also comes with the problems that are attached," said Donna Vitagliano.

The CEO of Insight House, which helps treat addictions, said more casinos could mean more gambling problems.

"I think the more it's available, it's like anything else. It's a temptation, it's a weakness and it's a problem," said Vitagliano.

Insight House recently lost their state funding to help treat gambling addictions.

"I think they need to invest money in terms of treatment, counseling and other benefits that come with that, because while most of us don't have a problem -- an addiction problem -- the small percentage that does is really - it's devastating to them and their families," Vitagliano said.

But Gural said, "People don't want government in their lives. I think that's the issue. You can't legislate morality."

Gural plans on spending tens of thousands of dollars on this "Get Out and Vote" campaign. Whether you're for it or against it, you get your say on Nov. 5.

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