By Joel Giambra
Sometimes, the house doesn’t win after all.
At the 11th hour of budget negotiations, news broke that one of the state’s newest casinos, del Lago Resort, is in dire financial straits and asking for a state bailout. In order to understand how they got to this point, one must take a look back to 2012 and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s master plan to legalize casino gambling in New York. It is one of the greatest examples of the governor’s notorious pay-to-play schemes that is – much like his other economic development disasters – collapsing with taxpayers holding the bag and stuck under one of the nation’s worst business climates.
In the early stages of Cuomo’s first term, he sounded like he cared about the economic plight of upstate New Yorkers. He was going to be the one to do something about it. Many of us cheered him on, understanding that with the right policies, the state really could experience an economic resurgence. But rather than make the bold changes that would solve the underlying problems, he was focused on quick and easy fixes that would net him great news headlines and rake in millions in campaign donations from businesses angling for lucrative state contracts.
Cash-flush casino developers looking to come to New York met that criteria perfectly. Forget the fact that in nearby New Jersey, home to gambling mecca Atlantic City, casino giants were going bankrupt left and right.
Cuomo thought he had a sure hand. He carefully crafted a system that created a "Hunger Games" race among developers to win the coveted licensing agreements who were all too happy to oblige by lavishing the governor and the Legislature with campaign donations.
In the end, three licenses were awarded, and casinos were built in Seneca, Sullivan and Schenectady counties. They have barely been open for a year, and all three are facing financial peril, falling far short of the revenue projections. Moody’s downgraded del Lago’s credit rating, giving it a negative outlook and warned it may not be able to cover its debts.
So, naturally, they would turn to the person who helped them get into this mess to get them out of it. The governor – once again in an election year – might have had the good sense to shoot down the prospect of a taxpayer-funded bailout, but that doesn’t absolve him of his failures, and del Lago isn’t giving up its fight.
His entire economic development strategy for upstate from the casinos to the Buffalo Billion to the empty factories in Rochester, Utica and Syracuse centered around a corrupt, pay-to-play system that is folding like a house of cards.
He gambled away the state’s future, and New Yorkers are still suffering under the highest taxes in the nation, the most residents leaving, the worst economic outlook and more corruption than any other state in America.
The only way to change the system is to change the players. And that is a bet worth taking.
Joel Gimbra is a candidate for governor of New York and is former Erie County executive.