Court takes its time on question of gambling expansion

More than six months after hearing arguments, a mid-level appeals court has yet to rule on the legality of the largest expansion of gambling in New York, one of the state’s most closely watched legal cases in years.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court typically turns around rulings five or six weeks from the time it hears oral arguments. The five judges given the gambling case heard oral arguments on Dec. 16.

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“The silence is deafening,” said Cornelius Murray, a lawyer for forces seeking to have the October 2001 gambling law invalidated. The law was upheld by a trial-level state Supreme Court justice in 2003.

The October 2001 gambling bill was approved in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. It was designed to provide the state with an infusion of revenue to offset the devastating impacts to the economy and treasury from the destruction of the trade center towers.

It authorized the establishment of up to eight gambling parlors featuring slot machine-like video lottery terminals; up to six new Native American-run casinos; and New York’s entry into the multistate Mega Millions lottery game.

The new ventures, still incomplete, are already adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the state treasury. When fully implemented, they were expected to return an estimated $2 billion a year to the state.

That’s why the stakes in the court case are so high.

The legal challenge is based on various theories, including arguments that both video lottery terminals and New York’s participation in a multistate lottery violate the state’s constitution.

 

“The courts are an enigma,” said state Sen. Frank Padavan, R-Queens, who is among those involved in the gambling challenge. “I can’t answer why (it is taking so long). We were told it was imminent. I guess it still is.”

Randy Mastro, the former New York City deputy mayor who is representing the casino operator Caesars Entertainment in the case, declined comment. Some lawyers are reluctant to discuss pending court cases for fear their words could affect, however subtly, the ongoing discussions among judges.

The most frustrating aspect of the long delay to some of the parties involved is that the Albany-based appellate division’s ruling will not be the last judicial word in the case.

Murray and Padavan agree that the legality of the October 2001 gambling law will be ultimately decided by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Even if the ruling finds the gambling law unconstitutionally broad, lawyers for the state would immediately be able keep the decision from going into effect as they prepared their appeal.

“I would think that the decision, the sooner it comes out, the better because it helps to let everybody know where they stand and what still needs to be done,” Murray said. “I was hoping for a decision sooner than later. But the court has to satisfy itself that it’s done the right thing. They are obviously taking it seriously.”