MANHATTAN — Albany lawmakers placed their bets on a plan to legalize casino gambling as part of a sweeping deal finalized at a marthon legislative session that lasted late into the night.
The politicians also cleared the way for a huge expansion to a DNA database kept by the state's crimefighters. It would make New York the nation's first state to collect genetic samples from people convicted of minor misdemeanors, not just serious crimes.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state assembly and senate leaders announced a deal late Wednesday that paves the way for casino gaming in New York through a constitutional amendment — one of a series of proposals that had been laid out in the governor's budget speech in January.
The deal would allow a maximum of seven privately-owned casinos to operate across the state, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in billions of dollars in revenue, advocates said.
"By taking these important first steps to legalize casinos we are finally confronting the reality that while New York is already in the gaming business, we need a real plan to regulate and capitalize on the industry," Cuomo said in a statement.
"This is a process that will ultimately put thousands of New Yorkers to work, drive our economy, and help keep billions of dollars spent by New Yorkers on gaming in the state," he said.
The state already has 29,000 electronic gaming machines — more than Atlantic City — but table games, like poker and black jack, are banned.
To become law, the amendment proposal must pass the legislature again next year and then be approved by a public referendum, held at the earliest in 2013.
Cuomo also scored a victory in his push to expand the state’s DNA databank, paving the way for New York to collect genetic samples not just from people convicted of serious crimes, but also minor misdemeanors such as jumping turnstiles in subway stations.
Advocates, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, have pushed for the expansion as a means to prevent wrongful convictions, painting DNA as the modern equivalent to conventional fingerprinting.
Civil liberties advocates, however, have raised concerns about the risk of false matches and tainted samples.
“It is a proven fact: DNA helps solve crimes, prosecute the guilty, and protects the innocent," Cuomo said.
"This bill will greatly improve law enforcement's ability to keep New York communities safe and bring justice to victims of violent crimes, as well as those who have been wrongly convicted.”
As part of the agreement, certain defendants will also be allowed to access DNA testing before their trials or after being convicted to try to prove their innocence.
In addition to the casino and DNA deals, the sides also reached an agreement to put the Governor’s teacher evaluation system into law, qualifying the state for $700 million in federal Race-to-the-Top funds.