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Opposition to Gambling Amendment Heats Up

Another anti gambling group has released a study debunking Governor Cuomo’s and the legislature’s claims about the benefits of permitting more casinos gambling in New York. So far opponents have been more vocal than supporters about the November 5th ballot referendum.

David Blankenhorn runs the national  Institute for American Values.  He’s been conducting a study looking at claims made by Governor Cuomo and the legislature about the benefits New Yorkers could reap by permitting up to seven new gambling casinos in New York State.  Supporters of the amendment say the plan for four new casinos upstate  could spur $1 billion dollars in economic development. Blankenhorn says that number comes from a lobby group, the New York Gaming Association, not independent  studies, and he predicts that the opposite will occur.

“There’s not a single independent study that shows casinos contribute to economic growth,” said Blankenhorn. “Because they don’t create anything of value, and they divert energy, time and money from the productive to the non productive sectors of society.”

Blankenhorn also disputes claims that the casinos will be resort destinations. He says most casinos outside Las Vegas or Atlantic City attract people who live within a 75 mile radius. And he says the regional casinos disproportionately attract the poorest in society, retirees and low wage workers, who may have the least disposable income to spend on slot machines.

“The very people who we need to be helping to gain ground in society instead of preying upon them in this way,” he said.

Blankenhorn claims there’s only one reason that Governor Cuomo and the legislature want the gambling expansion.

“Money,” he said. “This is about money for the government. It’s about money that the politicians don’t have to call a tax.”

Under the terms of the legislation accompanying the change to New York’s constitution, the state and surrounding local governments would reap potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax payments from the casinos.

Governor Cuomo, who championed the casino bills in the legislature, says the argument about the merits of gambling and whether more should be allowed in New York is really over.  He says there are already casinos within driving distance of most New Yorkers. The constitutional change would mean that the state more directly benefits. Cuomo predicts if people know the “facts”, then they will support the amendment.

“It’s not really gambling versus no gambling  ,” Cuomo said. “We already have gambling, we just don’t call it gambling, we have casinos, we call them racinos.”

Racinos are located at many of the state’s horse racing tracks and feature virtual slot machines run through the state lottery division.

“I think it passes,” Cuomo predicted. “But it’s a  sophisticated argument, no doubt.”

Cuomo has not detailed any specific plans for promoting the referendum, though he says he won’t be silent.

“I’ll be working to pass the referendum,” Cuomo said. “And then it’s going to be up to the voters.”   

The state’s Catholic Bishop’s have also come out against the gambling expansion amendment.  In a statement the bishops say while they consider gambling itself to be “morally neutral”, they are concerned that adding more casinos in New York will increase problems gambling.

“When gambling as a revenue stream becomes overly prevalent in a society, the risks associated with problem gambling multiply. With their flashing lights, free-flowing alcoholic drinks, all-night hours and generally intoxicating atmosphere, casinos are more likely than other gambling options to lead to bad decisions and catastrophic losses for patrons, particularly those prone to problem or compulsive gambling”, the statement reads in part.

The bishops cite a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which they say shows the availability of a casino within 50 miles is “associated with double the prevalence of problem or pathological gamblers”.

Meanwhile, a Siena College poll finds that when New Yorkers are asked whether they support the gambling expansion amendment, they are evenly split at 46% to 46%.  But when survey takers were read the actual language on the ballot amendment, which puts the new casinos in a positive light, 55% say they would vote yes, compared to 42% who say they would vote no. The amendment claims that the new casinos would generate money for education and result in lower taxes.