The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and now The Miami Herald have all run high profile news reports exposing how Genting, the overseas multi-billion dollar casino operator behind the proposed casino agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoags, is literally buying up the political process in New York and Florida.
Aside from this Boston Magazine story and Commonwealth Magazine’s Paul McMorrow’s excellent piece on how Genting is hiding behind the Mashpee’s tribal status to evade public scrutiny, Genting’s role in Massachusetts has received little examination. Meanwhile, its casino proposal, a deal quarterbacked by Gov. Deval Patrick, is moving quickly through the legislative process.
The New York Times revealed earlier this year:
“A group closely allied with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo received $2 million from gambling interests last December as he developed a proposal to expand casino gambling in New York…. Genting, a subsidiary of Southeast Asia’s largest gambling company, made an additional contribution of approximately $400,000 to the group allied with Mr. Cuomo during 2011. The New York Gaming Association, a trade group founded by Genting and other companies that operate racetracks and electronic slot machines, chipped in the $2 million.
The contributions went to the Committee to Save New York, a business and labor coalition that raised $17 million and spent nearly $12 million in 2011, much of it on campaign-style television and radio advertisements praising Mr. Cuomo and supporting his proposals to cap property taxes and slash state spending.
Founded by real estate developers and business executives at Mr. Cuomo’s urging shortly after he was elected governor, the committee has rapidly become the biggest spender on lobbying in Albany, providing critical backing for Mr. Cuomo but also a counterweight to the labor unions whose money and political muscle have traditionally dominated the Capitol.
An official with the association said that it had contributed $1.5 million to the Committee to Save New York on Dec. 1 and $500,000 on Dec. 6. Around the same time, Mr. Cuomo unambiguously took the gambling industry’s side, writing a newspaper op-ed article on Dec. 4 saying that he favored expanded casino gambling in New York. Within days, the Committee to Save New York also adopted the issue, adding legalized gambling to its list of priorities for the 2011 legislative session.”
Just three weeks after Genting and the New York Gaming Association gave their $2 million to Cuomo’s Committee to Save New York, the name of Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo appeared on a well-timed op-ed that ran in The New York Daily News on January 1, 2012 titled “The Massachusetts Miracle.” The casino issue was going to be the centerpiece of Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech later in January and DeLeo’s op-ed served an important political purpose of attempting to frame the issue of casinos “as part of a pragmatic approach from state leaders focused equally on jobs and growth, reform and cost savings.”
There was little Bay State media coverage around DeLeo’s curious op-ed. He told one local media outlet: “I just wanted the message to get out there that Massachusetts is the place to be.” DeLeo, who has made casinos his top priority even though he has only gambled in a casino once in his entire life, has not written any other op-eds for out-of-state newspapers.
The New York Times editorial board described the money given by Genting and other gambling operators this way:
“At this point, it looks too much like the governor’s secret slush fund.”
Genting’s “pay to prey” tactics are not unique to New York. In Florida, a casino proposal has not even been passed but according to The New York Times:
“Genting has spent more than $400 million on land, joined local civic associations, contributed $628,320 to Republicans and Democrats and hired two dozen lobbyists and public relations firms.”
After losing in the Florida Legislature despite all of the money they spent, Genting is now attempting to buy their own statewide ballot referendum in 2014:
“Meanwhile, Genting appears ready to overpower all those forces by going directly to voters with a constitutional amendment on the 2014 statewide ballot. The company is not revealing its plans. But as soon as the language is drafted, it could start gathering signatures at polling sites as early as the August primary or November general election.”
Despite their prodigious lobbying spending in other states, Genting has not registered itself with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office (nor has its subsidiary Arkana Ltd) as doing any lobbying in this state. The public face of Genting in Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoags, reported spending almost $230,000 in lobbying for the first half of 2012. The Mashpee also reported spending almost $325,000 in a community-wide referendum in Taunton, outspending the grassroots opposition almost 300-1. Most elected officials would find it almost impossible to win an election if they were outspent 3-1 regardless of their merit. Imagine being outspent 300 to 1. Yet, many journalists and public officials continue to say the voters gave their blessing to the casino proposal as if there was a fair campaign process.
Massachusetts now has the strictest lobbying laws in the country. By not revealing its lobbying activities in Massachusetts, especially in light of its conduct in other states and its obvious and massive financial interest in the state’s legislative process, Genting is violating the spirit of these laws.