Hamburg leaders were cautious at first with gambling dollars from the fairgrounds racetrack.
Not sure how the money would flow, they parceled it out to small projects.
“We were very suspicious of the state,” Town Supervisor Steven Walters said last week. “And it turned out those suspicions were on point.”
When fiscal crisis hit, the state, like a bad addict, needed more. Hamburg’s share of the gambling revenue – already a pittance compared to what the state took in – was cut in half.
Three years later, it is budget season in Hamburg again, and Walters is still trying to get the town’s share of video lottery terminal revenue fully restored. While state lawmakers gave a slight boost to the town’s cut this year, the $680,000 Hamburg receives is still well below the $2.1 million Walters says it should have gotten under the original arrangement.
This is the reality of governments and gambling. The more money the state gets, the more money it needs to fuel its spending habits. Gambling – unlike budget cuts and long-term planning – is a quick and easy fix.
Not satisfied with the billions the state already takes in through the lottery and casinos each year, state lawmakers will ask voters in November to let the state open seven casinos.
The 54-word proposition slated for the ballot paints a bright picture of jobs, education and lower taxes. The question – which faces a legal challenge over its optimistic language – amounts to little more than a push-poll.
What it doesn’t own up to is the addiction that inevitably comes with twinkling gambling halls. And I’m not talking about the kind of dependency that leads problem gamblers down a path of despair.
This is the kind of addiction that has left the state government dependent on ever-larger amounts of gambling dollars and has crippled local governments when casino revenue dried up.
Plunk casino cash into a state or local budget, and it becomes just another revenue source that needs to be maintained. We saw it in Salamanca. We saw it in Niagara Falls.
Casino revenue has helped both cities stay afloat and tackle projects they couldn’t have dreamed of without the extra revenue, but it’s also made them dependent on casino handouts over which they have no control.
Salamanca and Niagara Falls are extreme examples, borne from a dispute that dragged on for years. But casinos anywhere are no longer sure bets.
As gambling halls proliferate across the country, they’ve become even more susceptible to competition and economic malaise. And, as we’ve seen in Hamburg, the state isn’t above simply deciding it wants a bigger share.
“If the state giveth, the state can taketh away,” Walters said. “And that’s always got to be a concern.”
As state lawmakers push forward with gambling expansion, one thing is clear: The state has become one of the biggest gambling addicts of them all.