New York is in a state of expansion.
Two years after the Empire State launched online sports betting, a bill is circulating in the Senate to legalize online casinos in New York. On top of that, regulators are in the midst of the downstate casino licensing process.
And while that is an exciting time for the state, the person at the forefront of such expansion, Gov. Kathy Hochul, finds herself in some hot water.
Hochul appointed Marissa Shorenstein as commissioner of the New York Gaming Commission, which oversees the legal gaming industry in New York. The potential problem? As reported by the New York Post, Shorenstein is the daughter of Stuart Shorenstein, an active lobbyist and adviser to gaming firms, some of which have active business with the board. Stuart Shorenstein also currently represents Evolution Malta, an advocate of legal online casinos in New York.
Some cry foul with new New York gambling committee member
Marissa Shorenstein, as pointed out by the New York Post, served as head of Hochul’s transition team when she became governor. She also worked as a press secretary for former Gov. David Paterson and currently serves as chief external officer at the sports and entertainment firm BSE.
While Shorenstein may certainly be qualified for the NYSGC role, the connection between her new gig and her father’s work have raised eyebrows.
“This is a head shaker,” John Kaehny, executive director of the nonprofit government accountability and transparency group Reinvent Albany, told the New York Post.
“Why appoint Shorenstein to something directly related to her father’s job? There are so many boards and commissions the governor could have appointed Shorenstein to. Why appoint her to the one that raises red flags?”
Kaehny called the move “absurd,” noting that appointing the daughter of a gambling lobbyist to a board that regulates and investigates the New York gambling industry inappropriate.
Stuart Shorenstein, who co-founded the lobbying firm Cozen O’Connor, also represents HBC-Saks Fifth Avenue, which hopes to earn one of the three downstate New York casino licenses.
New York State Gaming Commission emphasizes new commissioner’s qualifications
In response, Lee Park, the NYSGC deputy executive director, believes that Marissa Shorenstein’s connection to her father will not create a conflict of interest.
“Marissa Shorenstein is a highly-qualified individual with decades of leadership in the public and private sector, who has always abided by the highest ethical standards on the Gaming Commission,” Park told the New York Post.
“It’s shameful that anonymous critics are making sensational allegations.”
The NYSGC stands by its strict procedures as they relate to recusals if conflicts arise. For her part, Shorenstein “transparent and forthcoming” regarding her family affairs. In fact, according to the NYSGC, Shorenstein has “already recused” herself from sitting in on cases involving her father and his lobbying firm.
On top of that, the NYSGC does not award the downstate licenses. Rather, the independent Gaming Facility Location Board will select the recipients.
Hochul again on wrong side of decision-making
This NYSGC appointment is the latest in perceived wrong decisions made by Hochul.
Last year, the governor signed off on a deal to provide the Buffalo Bills with $850 million to help fund the team’s new $1.4 billion stadium. Some of the cost, Hochul said, would come from casino revenue owed to the state by the Seneca Nation.
Soon after, Matthew Pagels, president of the Seneca Nation, blasted the governor in a video statement: “In one breath, New York’s hostile and shameless greed was laid out for the world to see.”
At one point over the summer, as the state looked to renew a compact with the Seneca, Hochul recused herself from negotiations after it was revealed that her husband had ties with Delaware North. Some believed that Hochul would sabotage compact talks as Delaware North, a slot gaming operator in the state, would benefit the company.