Governor Andrew Cuomo

Casino Courted Cuomo at Barry Gosin’s Westchester Estate: Report

Newmark Grubb Knight Frank chief executive Barry Gosin had himself a little house party one blustery October day last year, gathering real-estate honchos and gambling executives alike to his 26-acre Westchester estate for a fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo

house party Casino Courted Cuomo at Barry Gosins Westchester Estate: ReportIn a detailed report in today’s Wall Street Journal, the freakish autumnal snowstorm that preceded the party’s start caused many of the fundraiser’s invitees to run late, giving two early arrivals–Genting Bhd. Chairman KT Lim and lobbyist Christian Goode–the perfect opportunity to put a laptop in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and present him with their plans for a $4 billion racino at the Aqueduct racetrack.

For roughly 20 minutes, the governor and other guests huddled around a laptop on a dining table to watch a slide show presentation of the Malaysian gambling giant’s ambitious bid, according to guests who were present. By December, Mr. Cuomo was fully supportive of casino gambling. By January, the heart of Genting’s plan was the splashiest feature of his economic agenda.

Both Genting executives were invited to Mr. Gosin’s house by way of Jeffrey Gural, a chairman at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank and Mr. Gosin’s colleague. Mr. Gural owns two racinos in upstate New York, including Tioga Downs in Nichols, New York.

“I thought it would be a good idea to meet the governor,” Mr. Gural told The Wall Street Journal, who went on to describe Genting’s presentation as “spectacular.”  Gov. Cuomo reportedly told the Genting executives to brief his economic development advisers on the proposal.

Others in attendance included Jennifer Cunningham, a political adviser to Gov. Cuomo and a managing director of SKD Knickerbocker. That firm was hired by Genting and the New York Gaming Association, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The news of Gosin’s Genting meet-and-greet comes the day after The New York Gaming Association, a trade group launched by casino operators, and Genting made a combined $2.4 million investment to The Committee to Save New York, an increasingly influential group comprised of several high-ranking real estate executives that has close ties to Gov. Cuomo.

While the Committee raised $17 million on behalf of the Governor since 2011, most of that money has been spent on pro-Cuomo advertisements for television and radio.

Discussions between Genting and Gov. Cuomo’s office over its proposed casino-slash-convention center broke down last week, with the Gov. saying that talks between the two “haven’t really worked out.” There are currently seven proposed sites across New York State that the Governor is setting aside for possible casino developments.

In an editorial in today’s New York Times, the Gray Lady criticized the Governor’s office for seemingly violating its earlier pledge to end pay-to-play and campaign finance reform.

But even in the slush fields of Albany, $2.4 million is a lot of money. And because the Committee to Save New York is registered as a tax-exempt social welfare organization, called a 501(c)(4), it has not been required until now to publicly disclose its donors.

…and later:

Cuomo administration officials argue that the governor pushed hard for ethics reform last year that, among other things, would require 501(c)(4) groups to disclose their donors. The legislation has a worrisome loophole that allows donors to remain secret if disclosure could lead to them being harassed or threatened. That is the claim made by business groups at the national level that are fighting disclosure. Meanwhile, New York’s new ethics committee has yet to write the disclosure rules.

Mr. Cuomo does not need to wait for that to happen. He can demonstrate his commitment to reform by pushing his friends at the committee to disclose all of its donors right now.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 501(c)(4)s are required to have a social welfare purpose that is not primarily political. We are eager to know what that purpose is for the committee, beyond supporting Mr. Cuomo and promoting the interests of its contributors.

Aides to Governor Cuomo sent a 2,200-word letter to The New York Times praising the Committee to Save New York for its efforts to support the Governor’s agenda, calling the committee “a welcome addition to the debate and dialogue in Albany too long manipulated and controlled by a small handful of multimillion-dollar vested interests.”

drosen@observer.com