State needs to be forthright with voters about the need for and costs of casinos - The Buffalo News
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State needs to be forthright with voters about the need for and costs of casinos

Just to be sure everyone is on the same page: When New York State talks about expanding casino gambling through a constitutional amendment, it is acknowledging – constitutionally, no less – that it cannot control its spending.

Its only alternative to meet its expenses is to increase revenue, and since raising taxes in the nation’s highest-taxed state is – and should remain – a non-starter, and since not enough businesses want to relocate to the “New New York,” Albany is instead planning to prey on human weakness. That’s the fact.

Yes, most people gamble for the entertainment value of it, but too many belly up to the blackjack table or the slot machine believing they are going to strike it rich – and there goes the mortgage payment or the grocery money or the college savings. Some even steal to support what becomes a gambling addiction – chasing losses hoping to make back what they’ve already gambled away.

That’s the new normal for increasing numbers of governments. Even Texas, which for years shunned a state lottery on moral grounds, has gotten into the game. New York is just further ahead. And, as a matter of democratic society, there is nothing inherently wrong with allowing New Yorkers to decide if they want to go down that road; indeed, it’s the only way it should be pursued. Thus, the state’s voters will be asked to decide the question when they go to the polls this November.

But it’s a serious question. No doubt, casinos would bring more revenue to Albany, and also to the municipalities that host them. They would also create temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs in the casinos.

However, the downsides are serious. Problem gambling occurs wherever casinos arise. They attract more than their share of misery. And entertainment dollars spent in casinos are just dollars shifted from restaurants, theaters and other attractions.

In addition, the law of diminishing returns would almost certainly set in. Before the Seneca Niagara Casino was built in Niagara Falls, the two casinos across the river were booming. Today, they are no longer drawing aces. That’s not only because of competition here, but it’s a part of the reason.

So what will happen when casinos expand across New York? Inevitably, they will draw fewer players from long distances and rely more on those within a smaller radius. Upstate, those tend to be poorer communities. That’s who will be the target market as opportunities for gambling expand.

Albany has already decided this is the way to go. As part of presenting the referendum to voters, the proposal first had to be approved by two separately elected legislatures. What is more, it is weighting the wording of the amendment to encourage approval, dangling such temptations as job growth, increased aid to education and lower property taxes.

New Yorkers will have to decide, and it’s not a simple question. This page supported a casino for Niagara Falls – a tourist city that was losing revenue to its Canadian sister – but opposed it for Buffalo.

The referendum has been flying under the radar, and it occurs only seven weeks from now. Many supporters see it as a done deal, and that may be so. But it shouldn’t be. New Yorkers need to make this decision with their eyes wide open and understanding that the odds are always with the house.

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