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Cuomo sets state on course for second year

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his second State of the State speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. AP Images

ALBANY — A privately funded plan to build the world’s biggest convention center in New York City with 3,000 hotel rooms and an inside track to expanded gambling got a powerful boost Wednesday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo pushed for a development company’s proposal for Aqueduct racetrack in Queens in his State of the State speech as part of his recommendation to grow gambling in a bid to create jobs and shore up sagging state tax revenues.

The proposed $4 billion, nearly 4 million-square-foot convention center in Queens between New York City’s major airports would replace the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. The Javits Center was considered too small almost from the outset and poorly suited for the kind of bold, glitzy convention center that would be appropriate for Manhattan as a world destination; an ongoing expansion project slated for completion next year would increase its size to nearly 900,000 square feet.

“Let’s build the largest convention center in the nation, period,” Cuomo said.

Reactions from legislative leaders indicated no immediate opposition.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said New York City needs a bigger convention center to draw more visitors.

“Aqueduct would probably make a decent location,” he said, noting it has the advantage of available land.

The New York Daily News first reported Wednesday the project would be funded by the Genting Group of Malaysia. Genting runs the video slot machine center at Aqueduct under a state license at the state-owned race track operated by the New York Racing Association.

Cuomo also said New Yorkers could approve a constitutional amendment to have Atlantic-City style casinos off Indian reservations. A likely spot is the Catskills, a once storied resort area.

In Albany, most lawmakers and the governor see an expansion of gambling beyond video lottery terminals, race tracks, the lottery and Indian casinos as necessary amid dwindling tax revenues. They say New Yorkers are already gambling away their money in Connecticut’s Indian casinos and at Atlantic City, N.J., and point to expansion in Pennsylvania and proposals in New England. But an intense debate is expected.

“Legalized casino gambling encourages people to pin their hopes on games of change that are stacked against them,” said Cornell University economics Professor Robert Frank. He is part of the survey by the Institute for American Values that says the social costs of gambling addiction outweigh the tax revenues.

“Those who are determined to gamble will find some way to do so, but why lend government’s imprimatur to predators’ efforts to exploit people who can least afford to bear the inevitable losses?” Frank said.

At Aqueduct on Wednesday, Ronny Pascuzzo, of West Babylon on Long Island, said he supported the idea of expanding gambling in New York as a way for the state to stay competitive.

“Why do we have to go to New Jersey to gamble?” he said. “Why do we have to go to Connecticut to gamble? We are still going to go. There are still thousands of people who are going to do that, so make it easier for people to do that.”

Cuomo said the center is needed to attract the largest trade shows and conventions. He called the Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side “obsolete and not large enough to be a top-tier competitor in today’s marketplace.”

Cuomo said the Javits Center is the 12th largest in the country.

He said the convention center and hotel complex built with Genting’s financing would be 3.8 million square feet, larger than Chicago’s McCormick Place, now the nation’s largest convention center.

Under the deal, the Javits Center, which sits on 18 acres of prime, state-owned real estate would be available for new use and new state revenue, with the site possible being used for housing, hotels, museums and smaller trade shows. Previous governors including George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer tried unsuccessfully to negotiate plans to expand Javits but were thwarted by the cost and prospect of raising taxes to help pay for it.

The Aqueduct expansion would position the site well for private-sector casinos that Cuomo said should be allowed by a constitutional amendment. Currently, only Indian-owned casinos are allowed and that’s under a federal gambling law.

Cuomo said he expects $2 billion in new investment at the Javits Center to create a “new 21st century neighborhood for the West Side.” Development will be in concert with development at Hudson Yards and Moynihan Station.