NEW YORK — NEW YORK (AP) — Opponents of New York state's proposal to build new casinos argued Monday that more gambling would further impoverish people struggling to make ends meet and encourage addicts, while supporters said tax revenue would generate jobs and fund schools.
A discussion presenting both sides of a referendum on amending the state constitution to allow Las Vegas-type casinos was held in New York City, ahead of a Nov. 5 ballot vote.
"My main concern and interest is keeping New York money in New York state," said Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. "And that means an increased economic benefit to the people of New York."
At the Manhattan forum sponsored by the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, Pretlow joined a panel that included Republican state Sen. John Bonacic, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, and David Blankenhorn, head of the Institute for American Values, a New York City think tank focusing on social issues.
The proposal to allow up to seven casinos with live dealers off Indian land depends on voters statewide approving a constitutional amendment. Two establishments could be built in the Catskills, another along the Pennsylvania border, and one near Albany, with more following years later.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports expanding the gambling industry as a way to create jobs upstate and provide the additional $1 billion in revenue he needs to pay for tax cuts and schools.
New York already has five Indian-run casinos and electronic gambling at nine racetracks. But none offers what Pretlow calls "games of skill" — live table games that are now illegal.
"Games of skill shouldn't be against the law; people should be able to develop the skill to participate, not just play games of chance — slot machines that are like a lottery, pushing a button," said Pretlow.
Bonacic calls the expansion plan "a game changer," saying every community in the state would benefit by the boost in education aid and lower property taxes.
"New Yorkers are already spending money on gambling and entertainment; it is just being spent out of state," he said.
Blankenhorn, of the Institute for American Values, countered that more casinos would simply exploit vulnerable people — some addicted to gambling, others spending money they don't have.
It's wrong to fund government services "off the backs of gamblers," he said.
But fewer casinos won't keep New Yorkers from playing, supporters argued. They simply go elsewhere.
"I hate to see people who earn their money in New York spend it in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, when there are such beautiful venues in New York that they could use," said Pretlow.
Stu Loeser, a spokesman for NY Jobs Now, a coalition of labor, political and business leaders supporting the ballot measure, noted that New Yorkers now spend $1.2 billion each year at full-service casinos outside New York — from Atlantic City to Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Pretlow said there were once more than 30 buses taking residents of Westchester County to Atlantic City.
In recent years, with the expansion of the Yonkers Raceway casino and the opening of one at the Aqueduct Raceway in Queens, "there are none, because the same people found a place to game" closer to home, he said.