Thursday, August 29, 2013
Cuomo’s Casino Dream
Published in the August 29, 2013 issue of the ARTVOICE
Somewhere along the line, Andrew Cuomo’s campaign promise to clean up New York State politics and government got replaced by a dream he never shared with us during his run for governor. New Yorkers got neither campaign reform nor heightened transparency laws. What they received instead was a slew of gaming interest dollars showered on the Governor and some of his key supporters, a collection of back door “Indian” gaming exclusivity deals, and the second passage of a law to amend the State Constitution to legalize State-licensed casinos. So no Albany cleanup but the wholesome family fun of “Vegas style” casinos made it through the State legislature and the Governor’s pen instead.
This Cuomo casino dream, pitched as a job creator and a plan to lift the State out of its financial morass, is not a done deal yet. This November’s off-year election will feature a public referendum to amend the 193-year constitutional ban on casino gaming. Beyond the obvious problem with the New York State jumping into an industry based solely on a vice and one known for corruption, there are some valid reasons why this is such a bad idea for New Yorkers.
First, where will the new casinos’ patrons come from? New York State boasts tourism as its number four industry, but how much of that industry draws revenue from outside the state? With the exception of New York City, is any other place really a tourist draw from out-of-state? The answer is no. It is fairly well established that the type of casinos proposed for the Empire State will draw 90 percent of its patrons from within a 50-mile radius of the venue. The casinos will be paying around 40 percent of their net to the State. So all the promises of jobs and tourism aside, let’s be clear: rather than pulling dollars into the State, these facilities will instead suck money out of their areas to the State. These new businesses cannot possibly be a boon to a local economy unless patrons are bussed in from elsewhere to offset the money that will be siphoned out of the area.
The only place that could possibly draw outside money is New York City, which will not get a casino anytime soon as a result of this referendum. So all you “New Yorkers” who will have to take one more look at your Weiner in your mayoral race, this “dream” is not for you. Other places, such as Niagara Falls, the Thousand Islands and Lake Placid, aren’t getting one either. Cuomo’s “Indian” exclusivity deals removed all of them from consideration. Just three areas are included in the legislation: the Eastern Southern Tier (Binghamton), the Catskills and the Capital District. So that’s it; a statewide constitutional referendum to change a 193 year-old ban so three areas (all excluding the State’s 4 largest cities) can try to save New York State from its financial woes.
In the best of times, when disposable income is plentiful and a majority have money burning holes in their pockets then, sure, fleecing the public with the old “dollar and a dream” scam might be great. I suppose a “dream” does sound better than a “gamble.” But not when it’s their last dollar or when they are already a dollar short. State gambling is a backhanded tax––an addictive, unfair and uncompromising tax. Like the New York Lottery, it is designed to fleece the public for state revenue.
And Albany will not be the only black hole casino revenue. Don’t forget about the gaming corporations that will be running them. There is only a slim chance that a New York-based company will win a casino contract. I’d put my money on Malaysia, Nevada or New Jersey. Their profits will not be spent in the area of these new venues. They’ll be distributed to shareholders living elsewhere. Their high paid executives will likely be brought in from out-of-state and the jobs created for the local residents will be barely above minimum wage with a heavy reliance on tips. And unlike most jobs where you might expect pay to increase over time; these jobs will see tips drop off once the newness of Cuomo’s casino dream wears off. Players won’t be the only losers.
There is no good reason to vote for this referendum. It is one thing for the Seneca or Oneida nations to fund their governments with casinos. They fund their tiny population, drawing from a much larger outside demographic. They don’t rely on their own people as a primary market.
Herein lies the fatal flaw in the Governor’s “Casino Dream.” New York State cannot fix its failing economy by sucking more dollars out of the people who are struggling within it.
Vote “no” in November.