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The very modus operandi of the New York Legislature — which routinely passes bills in the middle of the night that virtually no one has read — is under challenge in an extraordinary lawsuit filed Tuesday in Albany. A coalition of legislative, religious and business interests is questioning the constitutionality of a bill passed in October that would greatly expand commercial betting in New York state. The legislation, an 81-page bill approved after midnight with less than an hour’s debate, authorized the governor to enter into compacts with Native American tribes for the operation of up to six Las Vegas-style casinos. Proponents touted the legislation as an economic development incentive and an aid to education since some of the proceeds would go for school aid. Opponents, represented by Cornelius D. Murray of O’Connell & Aronowitz in Albany, N.Y., raise three main arguments: The legislation violates a state constitutional provision banning commercial gambling; the only real reason for the bill was to bail out the horse-racing industry, and such a use does not qualify for an exception to the gambling ban; and a multistate provision is unconstitutional because it would allow proceeds to cross state lines. But the suit also questions the very process that is standard operating procedure in Albany. “The proposed legislation was not subjected to committee study; there were no public hearings and no opportunity whatsoever for input by the average citizen,” according to the lawsuit. “Instead, the impetus for the bill came from powerful gambling interests who mounted one of the broadest, most expensive lobbying campaigns in state history in order to obtain passage.” Further, the bill had not been on the desks of lawmakers for three days, as usually required under Article III � 14 of the state Constitution. Instead, it came accompanied with a “message of necessity” from Gov. George Pataki. Under the state Constitution, the three-day bill aging rule can be waived and an immediate vote can be taken when the governor states in writing why prompt action is needed. Here, the immediate necessity cited by the governor was that the bill was needed to “enact certain provisions of law.” Murray, in his verified complaint, characterized the “farcical exercise” as mocking “everything we are supposed to believe in about our republican form of government” and amounted to a “midnight raid on the Constitution.” What Murray cannot, and does not, claim is that the procedures followed on the gambling bill were in any way unusual; just two weeks ago, Pataki and legislative leaders forced an immediate vote on the Health Care Reform Act. The governor later said he was eager to get the bill approved before opposition mounted, and the Legislature passed the bill even though few of the members had seen it. “It is a sad situation when representatives elected by the people don’t get to see a bill and rank-and-file members don’t see a bill that lobbyists have had a hand in preparing,” Murray said. “Who is representing the people — the elected representatives of the people or the paid lobbyists? It is a disgrace, and it is becoming common practice.” ROLE OF LOBBYISTS State Sen. Frank Padavan, a Republican from Queens and named plaintiff, said the process resulting in the gambling bill was unusually offensive because to a large extent the measure was written by lobbyists. The bill sparked one of the most expensive lobbying efforts in state history, with several interests eager to cash in on what is projected to be a billion-dollar initiative. Indian tribes eager to build casinos, developers hoping to form partnerships with the tribes, horse-racing endeavors and manufacturers of gambling machines were among roughly 40 clients that spent more than $2 million to advance the bill. The lobbying effort involved some of the highest-paid and best-connected lobbyists at the capitol, and the effort paid off with a measure that would make New York the most gambling-friendly state in the east. On Oct. 31, Gov. Pataki signed a bill that extends the Quick Draw game; permits New York to join the multistate Powerball lottery; allows as many as six casinos operated by Indians; authorizes slot machines in Native American gambling centers; and authorizes installation of video lottery terminals at eight race tracks. Pataki had long supported legalized gambling, but it took the economic impact of Sept. 11 to get the measure through the Legislature. Ultimately, a concept that was previously stymied in the Legislature passed 92 to 41 in the Assembly and 52 to 8 in the Senate after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed and key concerns spent a fortune on lobbying and campaign contributions. The lawsuit was long anticipated, and some had speculated that it would be bankrolled by Donald Trump in an effort to undercut a measure that would lead to considerable competition for his three Atlantic City, N.J., casinos. However, plaintiffs said Tuesday that the litigation, which is expected to cost roughly $100,000, will not use funding from Trump or any other gambling interest. Sen. Padavan, a longtime vocal opponent of gambling, said that aside from the manner in which the bill is passed, it is bad public policy. The senator said that several studies have proven that the cost of legalized gambling and its societal impact far outweigh any benefits. “Gambling, in terms of revenue, is fool’s gold,” Padavan said. ANTICIPATES MOTIONS Murray said he has no doubt that the case will eventually land at New York’s Court of Appeals. However, Murray said he anticipates that defendants, which include the governor, other state officials and several agencies and racing organizations, will file “all kinds of motions on technical grounds and standing in an effort to avoid adjudication on the merits.” Suzanne Morris, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Tuesday the administration expects to prevail. “It [the lawsuit] was not unexpected obviously, but we are confident we will overcome every legal challenge,” Morris said. “The legislation was carefully crafted to withstand legal challenge and to create jobs and opportunities for upstate New York.” New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office will defend the legislation.

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