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Town of Hamburg worried about Governor Cuomo's plan to end casino payments

Without the money, Supervisor Shaw said taxes might have to be raised more than 9%
Posted at 6:57 PM, Jan 31, 2020

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as part of his proposed Executive Budget, wants to end Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) Aid for municipalities outside the City of Yonkers.

VLT Aid is money paid by NYS to communities that host a racino casino with video terminals for gambling. It comes from the revenue generated by the video terminals that is paid to the state.

For fiscal year 2019-20, Hamburg received $865,679 for hosting Hamburg Gaming at the Fairgrounds. Erie County received $288,560.

Batavia is another WNY community concerned about the proposed stoppage of payments.

"Video lottery terminal revenue is the second largest source of revenue we have," said James Shaw, Town of Hamburg Supervisor.

Shaw said if the money is not restored, the town will be forced to cut services, eliminate jobs, or raise property taxes more than 9.65%.

"I am very disappointed," said the supervisor, who added that the town incurs a cost with supplying police and EMS services for the casino. "We have police officers and our Armor volunteer firefighters over there all the time," explained Shaw.

Governor Cuomo is trying to close a $6.1 billion gap with his proposed budget. But NYS Assemblymember Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) believes the cuts to host communities, like Hamburg, are the wrong way to go.

"$800,000 to the state budget is a drop in the bucket. $800,000 to the Town of Hamburg is the bucket," said Ryan, who added, "It is bad news for the Town of Hamburg and the County of Erie."

Hamburg is considering sending a resolution to Albany calling for the proposal to be rejected and payments restored. In addition, Supervisor Shaw is hoping to get residents to voice their concerns as well. "We are going to ask our citizens to literally bombard them with pleas for help," said Shaw.

RESPONSE FROM THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE:

7 Eyewitness News asked Governor Cuomo's office for an explanation and whether anything would be done to help municipalities, like Hamburg, that are losing the VLT payments. We received this response:

“Local governments across the state benefit from hosting video lottery terminal facilities in the form of increased sales taxes associated with the facility and from those who visit it and spend in their communities, far outweighing any possible costs associated with hosting one.” –Freeman Klopott, spokesman, New York State Division of the Budget

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Hamburg Supervisor James Shaw doesn't agree with the state's rationale. Shaw said he questions how much economic impact the casino actually has for the entire Town of Hamburg because the gambling facility is designed to be self-contained with restaurants, bar and coffee shop. "If a husband and wife are going there on a Friday night for a little relaxation, and they lose $100-$150 with dinner and gambling, it is very unlikely they are going out on Saturday to a local restaurant or theater," said Shaw.

Hamburg Gaming is located on the Erie County Fairgrounds which is operated by the The Erie County Agricultural Society; a private not-for-profit membership corporation. The Hamburg Casino is owned as licensed subsidiary of the Buffalo Trotting Association and operated by Delaware North.

Mike Bolas from the Agricultural Society told reporter Ed Reilly he believes the Hamburg Gaming facility has a "significant economic benefit" to the area and the society supports efforts underway by the town to have the VLT payments restored.

Erie County Legislator John Gilmour (D-Hamburg) released this statement Saturday:

“The Governor’s decision to attempt to balance his budget on the back of the Town of Hamburg and Erie County is unfair at best and could be disastrous at worse. Hamburg is already suffering from revenue loss with the declining viability of shopping centers like the McKinley Mall. Any attempt by New York State to remove what is mostly local revenue from the town’s budget is unacceptable. Erie County residents spend their money locally and deserve their fair share. Hamburg Gaming is a valuable business that is supported through local means as well - by the Town Police when security is required or local emergency responders for medical care, for example. Cutting over $1 million dollars from the Town of Hamburg and Erie County is completely unacceptable in my opinion, and I will be clocking in a resolution strongly opposing these efforts."