Two city lawmakers are urging voters to reject a state referendum on expanding casino gambling for what appear to be very different reasons.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek said the City of Buffalo will lose revenue if additional casinos are built throughout the state, while Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto emphasized the social problems created by casinos and said their promised economic benefits have not materialized in host communities.
On Nov. 5, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution, allowing up to seven new casinos to be built across the state.
A resolution putting the Council on record as urging voters to reject the casino expansion amendment was filed with the Council this week. A discussion and vote is possible during Tuesday’s Council meeting. It’s not clear whether a majority of lawmakers will support it.
Both lawmakers agree that the wording of the referendum – the subject of a lawsuit that was recently dismissed – is misleading to voters.
The amendment doesn’t mention the risk of gambling addiction, and it speaks of “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.”
Golombek called it “a piece of propaganda,” while LoCurto said its premise is false.
“If the state thinks this is such a good idea, they should ask a fair question,” said LoCurto, who hopes the resolution will “raise awareness of both sides of the story, and not the picture that’s painted by the ballot question.”
Millions have been spent on lobbying in Albany in favor of casinos, and television ads in support of the referendum have begun airing downstate. The ads are funded by NY Jobs Now, a coalition of labor and business organizations. The group’s membership also counts politicians, including Mayor Byron W. Brown.
The Seneca Nation of Indians has exclusive rights to operate casinos in Western New York, but Golombek said more casinos statewide would increase competition for the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino downtown. That wouldn’t be good for the city’s bottom line, he said, because the city receives a portion of slot machine revenue generated there, which has averaged about $5 million per year.
“I’m not opposed to some casino gambling,” Golombek said. “I just don’t think it’s something that should be made readily available across New York State.”
He also blamed the rise of casinos locally for the death of bingo nights, which provided revenue for Catholic parishes.
The state’s residents and visitors can support a limited number of casinos, and they shouldn’t be made to be “a panacea that will solve all of our problems,” said Golombek, adding that the lottery has not relieved state and local governments of funding education.
Council President Richard A. Fontana said he is reserving judgment on the resolution until he has a chance to read it.