The following is an op-ed submitted by Stephen Shafer, chairperson of the Coalition Against Gambling in NY.
In November, New York voters will have a referendum on whether the state’s constitution should be amended to permit up to seven new commercial casinos. Voters will be the target of pro-casino public relations output filled with buzzwords like “jobs” and “economic development.” These misinformation campaigns won’t reveal the vast cost of New York’s current gambling problem and why Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan, if enacted, will make it worse.
They also won’t reveal how all New Yorkers will eventually be on the hook to pay, without realizing it, the bill due from the dark side of the governor’s plan.
Pathological and problem gambling combined already costs New York taxpayers a quantifiable $3.7 billion dollars a year, besides unquantifiable havoc like family breakup or suicide. Voters should be told in depth how the governor’s plan will affect state taxpayers overall.
Yet politicians promoting casinos as public policy do not give constituents the information needed for an informed decision. No surprise. Looking at New York’s state-sponsored gambling program (the Lottery), it’s clear that for the past 40 years Albany has downplayed the impacts of problem gambling and promoted predatory gambling under the pretext of “state aid to education.”
Governor Cuomo’s recent proposal that newly legalized casinos carve out for treatment and prevention more funding than has previously been available is a token gesture. Without a legislative commitment to provide truly adequate funding, his proposed ante ($500/yr per slot or table game) shows that the state is not committed to repair decades of neglect.
Part of being responsible is deciding what you want, and paying for it. But for decades Albany has decided that some New Yorkers (not just problem gamblers but their families and associates) are expendable, collateral damage from its gambling policies.
Four percent of adults generate 50 percent of revenues: this is the keystone statistic of the casino industry.
Those four percent are gamblers addicted or verging on addiction. Let’s not pretend casinos truly want to stop all problem gambling – what for-profit business would agree to cut its profits by 50 percent?
There are other features of the casino business model to consider before referendum. Almost every problem and pathological gambler uses the money of trusting non-gamblers, abusing personal relationships. Anyone (they are not few) who thinks the gamblers deserve their misery needs to look beyond that to the gamblers’ spouses and partners, children, parents, siblings, associates, bankers, insurance agents, neighbors, friends. Innocent victims or dupes, they don’t deserve the misery that predatory gambling visits on them “for aid to education.”
A vote for the amendment is a vote to inflict more pain on these fellow citizens.
Stephen Q. Shafer, MD, MPH, is the chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in NY, a non-profit founded to oppose any expansion of legalized gambling in New York. He was a faculty member at Columbia University and a clinical professor of neurology at Harlem Hospital Center until his retirement in 2010.