Gambling Industry Bets Big on NYS, Has Spent $50M on Lobbying and Campaign Contributions Since 2005

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

September 19, 2012


Gambling Industry Bets Big on NYS, Has Spent $50M on Lobbying and Campaign Contributions Since 2005

New Common Cause report “Stacking the Deck” reveals gambling industry’s top donors, recipients, and lobbyists

Common Cause/NY released a groundbreaking report detailing the extent of the gambling industry’s efforts to influence public policy in New York State. The report, “Stacking the Deck”, analyzes public campaign finance reports and lobbying records, revealing the top donors, recipients, and lobbyists involved in this contentious and lucrative endeavor.

From 2005 through June 2012, gambling and horseracing interests spent nearly $50 million in political money in New York State –over $40 million on lobbying and roughly $7.1 million in campaign contributions.

As of the first half of 2012, the gambling industry is on pace to spend more political money than in any prior year, with nearly $4 million spent on lobbying and over $700,000 in campaign contributions. Racino owners, Indian tribes, and national gambling corporations are gearing up for battle over seven casino licenses as the passage of a New York State constitutional amendment to permit full-scale gambling grows closer.

“Gambling interests are betting big and spending millions in advance of a potential billion-dollar pay out. New York’s sky-high contribution limits, LLC loophole, and unlimited contributions to soft money accounts means the deck is stacked against the average voter. We need campaign finance reform to assure the public that the state’s future won’t be decided in a high stakes game where the dealer always wins,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.

The report details how the gambling industry plays an outsized role in state politics compared to its significance to the state’s economy. Each cycle, the industry spent at least $9.5 million on lobbying and $1.5 million on campaign contributions. By comparison, New York’s entire banking and financial services sector spends roughly $16 million on lobbying each election cycle, and corporate donations from the state’s entire energy industry amounted to $1.4 million in the 2010 cycle. Each of these economic sectors is hundreds of times larger than the gambling/horseracing industry in New York State.


Racino interests lead competing interests in both lobbying and campaign contributions, spending $11.6 million on lobbying, $2.5 million on campaign contributions, and donating an additional $2.4 million to the Committee to Save New York.

Horseracing interests (not directly connected with racino ownership) have spent an additional $8.1 million on lobbying and $2.2 million on campaign contributions.

Indian tribes have spent $8.5 million on lobbying and made $1.1 million in campaign contributions.

Out of roughly $7.1 million in total contributions, $1.57 million went to candidates for Governor, with Andrew Cuomo receiving $715,000, Eliot Spitzer $594,000, and David Paterson $204,000. (Cuomo’s contributions from gambling represent less than 2% of his overall donor base).

More than half of all gambling and horseracing industry donations –$3.9 million –went to the candidates and committees of the State Legislature. Of this sum, nearly $2.4 million went to the State Legislature’s “soft money” accounts controlled by the party leadership, with over $1.6 million split between Senate Republicans and Democrats and over $700,000 going almost entirely to Assembly Democrats.

Over $1.1 million went to State Senate candidates and nearly $500,000 to Assembly candidates, with money concentrated in the leadership of the key Racing and Wagering committees and to candidates with racetracks/racinos in their districts.

Top five State Senators receiving money from gambling industry: 1. Eric Adams ($95,000), 2. Jeff Klein ($83,000), 3. Thomas Libous ($82,000), 4. John Bonacic ($80,000), 5. Joseph Bruno ($71,000)

Top five State Assemblymembers receiving money from gambling industry: 1. J. Gary Pretlow ($103,000), 2. Richard Brodsky ($51,000), 3. Sheldon Silver ($32,000), 4. Keith L.T. Wright ($15,000), 5. Mike Spano ($13,000)

Pretlow, the Chair of Assembly Racing and Wagering, has raised nearly 30% of his campaign money from gambling and horseracing interests.

The Solution: Campaign Finance Reform with Public Financing of Elections

The concentration of money in gubernatorial races reflects the sky-high contribution limits for state wide offices in New York State. Donors are currently free to give up to $60,800 in a single year to candidates for Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller, one of the least restrictive limits in the nation. And this limit can be easily avoided by using the LLC loophole.

If Governor Cuomo and other public officials are serious about restoring objectivity and transparency to policymaking, then reforming New York State’s campaign finance laws and passing public financing of elections should be the first order of business.

Governor Cuomo has repeatedly stated his strong support for campaign finance reform on the New York City model. Public financing has been highly effective in New York City at encouraging democratic participation and amplifying the impact of small dollar and constituent donors. In 2009, City Council candidates who opted into New York City’s public financing system received roughly 25% of their total campaign cash from small donors giving amounts of $200 or less. The corresponding figure for State officials is abysmally low at 7% overall, with some individual state legislators clocking in at less than 2%.

Public financing of elections on this model, coupled with lower contribution limits and the closing of loopholes, would provide an incentive for candidates to raise small donations from their actual constituents. Legislators would pay more attention to the citizens they are supposed to represent and be less dependent on raising money through huge checks from special interests.

As long as the rules of the game make politicians accountable to narrow special interests like the gambling industry, they’re never going to be accountable to the public who elected them. Policy decisions will continue to be made in the backrooms of lobbyists’ offices and donors’ homes instead of through public debate and objective evaluation.

Full report avaliable here: