Source: Rob Bourdon via Flickr

Source: Rob Bourdon via Flickr

The effort to pass a measure that would expand legalized gambling in New York State and see the construction of seven casinos is receiving a huge push from legislators and lobbyists. Despite the momentum, opponents of the measure continue to uncover new data suggesting the bill might not bring the economic boon promised and that politicians have already enriched their campaigns in fast-tracking the legislation from major gambling interests.

Earlier in the month, we reported that the casino ballot measure had majority support among voters, especially after the bill was presented to voters in glowing language that made the legislation seem like a no-brainer. The language surrounding the measure promises job growth, lower taxes and aid to schools. Times Union is reporting on a study put out by the Institute for American Values that notes that expanded access to slot machines would drastically increase gambling addiction:

Modern slot machines “engineer the psychological experience of being in the ‘zone’ — a trancelike state that numbs feeling and blots out time/space. For some heavy slot players, the goal is not winning money,” the study said.

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base, drawing 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues from these people, many of whom are low rollers.

Living near a casino or working at a casino increases the chance of becoming problem gambler. Those who live within 10 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be a problem gambler than those who do not.

Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim. The problem gamblers frequently go to a casino, and their lives and livelihoods may be adversely affected by their betting. They are not necessarily the heavy gamblers who are pathological and who suffer from increasing preoccupations to gamble and a loss of control.

The study also indicated the potential economic harm that increased access to legalized gambling would have on the state:

The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure, but many costs pop up during the longer term that are harder to quantify. Economic stimulus fades after the casino becomes a dominant business that drives out established local businesses, such as restaurants, replacing them with pawnshops, auto title lenders and check-cashing stores. And since problem gambling develops over four to seven years, the stress on families and finances may gradually become apparent.

Geoff Freeman, the president of the American Gaming Association (AGA), a powerful gambling lobbying group, refutes the studies undertaken by the Institute for American Values:

“They believe their values are better than others. They’re trying to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Freeman told Times Union…

The American Gaming Association’s Freeman said the institute’s conclusions are based on tired arguments and inaccuracies. He said many communities benefit markedly from casinos, such as Bethlehem, Pa., Kansas City, Mo. and French Lick, Ind. He said he had not read Schull’s book on slot machine engineering, but that all technology has evolved. He said just 1 percent of the population have pathological addictions and that the other 99 percent should have the “entertainment they desire.” The AGA’s research points to 2 percent to 3 percent of the adult population having gambling problems.

Freeman was not able to estimate how much of the revenues of casinos come from problem gamblers. It would be in the billions, based on the institute’s estimates. In 2012 nationwide, tribal casinos collected $27.9 billion and commercial casinos accounted for $38.3 billion.

While it isn’t known for certain as to how much of a boon legalized gambling will be for the state, it is known how much money legislators have scored from gambling interests. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Governor Andrew Cuomo and politicians in the New York State Senate and Assembly have seen lots of cash flow into their campaign coffers from the gambling lobby. From 2011 to July of 2013, Cuomo has received $361,000 while the Legislature has taken in over $1 million in that time frame.

Common Cause, who conducted that study, noted that the law enacting the referendum had once prohibited politicians from receiving campaign contributions from the gambling lobby but that law was killed in closed-door talks.

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  • bruce b

    Um, maybe some of the politicians do not believe in having a never-ending increasing list of items which tell the people what is good and is not good for them. Maybe some of them don’t believe in protecting people from themselves, or maybe they know their limitations and don’t believe in imposing their values on the population.
    I never read of an oppressive government which did not announce that it was imposing its oppression for the “good of the people”. When someone is against freedom to xxxx (fill in the xxxx, ;gamble in this example) for my own good, the red alert really goes up in my mind.

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      Bruce: I know we stand on opposite ends of this issue. But my concerns aren’t about restricting people from gambling for fear that they’ll become problem gambling; it’s the knowledge that I’ll have to pay for their problem gambling. It’s not about protecting them, it’s about protecting me. People are still free to go gamble upstate, out in Queens or in NJ, where communities have already given their consent. Just not in my backyard without my consent.

      The data is there. The social costs of casinos are high, and grow higher with time as casinos eat away the economic base of their communities, meaning less to draw from property, income and sales taxes, and more for the rest of us to shoulder. Lifting restrictions on casinos isn’t fiscal conservatism, it’s fiscal insanity. The fiscally conservative thing to do is maintain the restrictions we already have, and keep casinos out of densely populated areas.

  • Tinman

    Sadly, most politicians only support something when they’re most likely to benefit from it, not whether or not it’s good for constituents.