As Cuomo musters New York business and labor for casinos, Foxwoods joins in

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ALBANY—A Foxwoods executive says he is “strongly in support of all efforts” to pass a referendum on casino gambling in the Empire State, despite its proximity to the tribal casino's flagship locations in central Connecticut.

Scott Butera, the casino C.E.O., said the group may contribute to a larger political action committee whose members include leaders from the Business Council and AFL-CIO as well as former Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas.

The firepower lined up in support of the November referendum, now with intensive, direct help from the Cuomo administration, is impressive and well-funded. The opposition is diffuse and poor.

Foxwoods goes a long way toward explaining the asymmetry.

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A casino in a nearby state might normally be expected to be first in line to fight the spread of gambling in New York, and protect its existing franchise. In the past, money from Atlantic City's gaming halls poured onto New York airwaves, sponsoring ads that couched financial arguments in moral terms and led to the defeat of other casino legalization efforts.

But Butera and his company have now come around to an if-you-can't-beat-em way of thinking, partnering with Muss Development to redevelop a resort and casino in the Sullivan County village of Liberty, on the site of the former Grossinger's resort. He sees more upside there than in standing pat.

“It's not like it's right next door,” he said. “We're at a point where we'd like to diversify our operations and expand our brand. We have a very strong presence in the Northeast market, and by introducing the Foxwoods brand into a new jurisdiction like the Catskills, we will strengthen all our properties.”

Butera said "a majority" of Foxwoods' current customers come from New England, though he acknolwedged a sizable slice come from New York State. Foxwoods and Muss announced their partnership in June, and have laid out plans for a $500 million project at the site, where a golf course is still active.

He refused to say how much the company would contribute to the larger effort. Records filed with the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which oversees lobbying, show Foxwoods' subsidiary for the Catskills signed a $50,000 contract with the lobbying firm Malkin & Ross for the six weeks leading up to Election Day.

Earlier this week, the main coalition in support of the referendum—a labor-business-political umbrella group called NY Jobs Now—registered as a political action committee capable of accepting unlimited contributions from members. (As is the case for all PACs, details will be disclosed in several reports before and after Election Day.)

“New Yorkers spend more than three billion dollars a year at destination casinos in other states. It’s about time we bring that kind of money home to create jobs, support schools, and take property tax pressure off towns and cities,” said Business Council President Heather Briccetti in a statement.

The in-state gambling interests are also on board. Cuomo settled outstanding claims with the Oneida, Seneca and Mohawk tribes that granted them exclusivity to keep operating casinos in certain parts of the state. And the legislation was tailored to allow owners of slot parlors currently attached to several racetracks in the state—who had been skeptical of a constitutional amendment—to bid, according to James Featherstonhaugh of the New York Gaming Association.

He, too, said he would be kicking in to the Jobs Now effort.

“I'm sure the Business Council guys are in the right place and they'll make a serious effort to encourage a yes vote,” he said.