New York Gaming Commission Accused of “Toxic” Work Environment in New Report

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The New York Gaming Commission, responsible for regulating a broad array of gambling operations in the state’s multibillion dollar market, is currently facing serious allegations of maintaining a “toxic” work environment.

Employees have come forward with claims of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, bullying, and political favoritism within the agency, as reported earlier this week by investigative journalists at The Times Union.

Specific allegations from the report include that one long-time staff member openly displayed racist memorabilia in the office, while others brazenly took drugs during shifts.

Gaming Commission spokesman Brad Maione defended the agency and denied the claims.

“Hundreds of dedicated employees come to work at the commission every day and strive to serve all New Yorkers in their jobs,” Maione said.

“Many employees have been with the agency for decades. Many have returned to the commission after leaving for other positions in state government and beyond.”

“Most Toxic Organization in the State”

The commission, which oversees a billion dollar sector across New York brick & mortar casinos, lotteries, horse racing and the largest U.S. sports betting market, will now be under intense scrutiny.

One particularly alarming incident recounted (with photo evidence) by a long-time staff member involved the display of a Ku Klux Klan sign and a swastika within the commission headquarters. It reportedly remained in place for several weeks in 2019.

The employee who allegedly put up the poster was reported to HR and suspended for 10 months without pay before returning to work.

Many employees have painted a grim picture of the agency, describing it as a place where staff face hostile working conditions. They allege that complaints are either ignored, inadequately addressed, or met with retaliation.

Di Ma was a former assistant counsel for the commission.

“I quickly realized this was not a normal workplace,” she said.  “I can never work in state service again under the same leadership.”

Another employee, an auditor with 30 years’ experience in the lottery division, called it “the most toxic organization in the state”.

Lawsuits and Legal Battles

The commission is currently embroiled in at least four lawsuits, with allegations ranging from discrimination based on sex, race, and disability to related retaliation.

Over the past four years, the agency has settled two age-discrimination lawsuits with former employees, paying out $75,000, although they did not admit to any wrongdoing. Another recent settlement involved a former worker who alleged sexual and race-based harassment, with the state agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum.

Since December 2018, the state Office of Employee Relations has received 41 complaints from Gaming Commission employees. Out of these, 10 were substantiated, leading the commission to take appropriate administrative actions.

An anonymous letter was also sent to the office of Governor Kathy Hochul last year, which was obtained by the Times Union. It highlighted the alleged sexual harassment and bullying at the agency.

“The morale is so poor at the Gaming Commission, and staff turnover is overwhelming,” it said.

“It is difficult for the agency to find staff because it is known across agencies how difficult it is at the Gaming Commission.”

Responses and Potential Reactions

However, Governor Hochul’s office claimed they have no record of receiving the letter.  

“Gov. Hochul has made clear that there’s no place for harassment and abuse in her administration, and since taking office in 2021, she has taken significant action to implement new policies, trainings and workplace protections that support and protect the state workforce,” said Hochul’s spokesman Avi Small.

Maione, speaking for the Commission, also refuted the allegations of a toxic or hostile work environment.

Two prominent Unions representing employees also expressed that they had not seen alarming rates of workplace complaints from their representatives.

Rob Williams, the long-time director the New York Gaming Commission since 2013, has yet to comment publicly.

On the other hand, The Times Union report claims journalists spoke to more than 20 former or current employees who are making such claims. This is also backed up by verifiable lawsuits and other legal battles over the past few years.

Bad Timing

Clearly, some official investigation is due. However the bad news comes at a busy time for Governor Hochul and the gambling sector in New York.

The Governor recently returned to negotiations with the Seneca Nation, where she will be hoping for a swift resolution to their controversial new Gaming Compact deal, as the December deadline for renewal is approaching.

The state, and mostly the Gaming Commission, is also soon set to decide which of the dozen multibillion dollar proposals competing for three downstate casino resort licenses will be getting the nod.

Big names looking to build the first true New York City casino resort include Caesars and hip hop mogul Jay-Z, Las Vegas Sands and local real estate mogul Larry Silverstein.

Internal upheaval at the gambling regulator in charge of making such big decisions is not good news for anyone going into this potentially very busy period.  

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