Of the six proposals on the ballot in the November election, we are focusing on the most controversial: the measure permitting more casinos in the state.
If voters approve the proposal, the state could get as many as seven new casinos. The first four would be in Upstate New York, but none would be in Rochester or elsewhere in western New York, where Indian tribes have exclusive rights to operate them. (Discussions continue about the possibility of an Indian-run casino in the Rochester area.)
Promoters of the casino ballot measure – including the governor, state business leaders, and, of course, casino interests – have been lobbying hard for its passage. They promise at least 10,000 new jobs – and hundreds of millions of dollars for the state and for counties throughout the state (including Monroe), distributed from taxes on casino proceeds. And, the supporters say, the casinos will boost the state's tourism economy by drawing out-of-state visitors and by appealing to New Yorkers who have previously gone elsewhere to gamble.
If experience is a guide, new jobs will indeed be created. And the casinos will generate new tax revenue, which could lower local taxes and help pay for schools and local government services.
So what's not to like?
A lot, frankly.
First, we should take those job-creation and revenue figures with a big grain of salt. New York already has five Indian-operated casinos (with possibly more to come) and nine racinos: race tracks with electronic gambling. They'll compete with the new gambling venues.
Supporters of the casino ballot measure note that many New Yorkers now frequent out-of-state casinos. Why not have them spend those gambling dollars in New York State? And presumably, many of those folks will indeed start gambling closer to home. But at some point, unless there is an endless appetite for gambling, we'll reach a saturation point. New casinos will draw business from existing ones, and job growth in a new one will cause job loss in older ones.
As for New York's casinos boosting tourism by attracting gamblers from other states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio already have casinos.
Some casino supporters think casinos will help nearby businesses. That's a pipe dream. Casinos are one-stop entertainment, dining, and stay-over venues, designed to keep gamblers contained within their walls. They're far more likely to suck business out of other restaurants, entertainment venues, and hotels – closing some of them and lowering local tax receipts.
A third concern: the social costs resulting from the increased gambling and gambling addiction that casino expansion will bring. Nobody disputes that this will happen.
And then, given the amount of money involved, there's no end to the avenues for corruption. Gambling interests have already been spending money to influence public officials and New York voters. And as the New York Times noted earlier this month, the casino industry would almost certainly try to influence the officials who will decide where the casinos are located and who operates them – and to press for continued expansion.
It did not lower the smell factor when the governor and state legislators revised the legislation calling for the casino expansion. Initially, it had barred casino developers from giving campaign donations to state officials. Suddenly, and quietly, that ban was taken out.
The opportunity for corruption is enormous. And New York has no lack of history, talent, and inclination in that area.
There are better ways to raise money for important government services than gambling, better ways to boost economic development, better business sectors to focus on: better industries for our vision of what New York can become.
New Yorkers should vote no on the casino ballot proposal.