Last November New York passed an amendment authorizing up to seven non-Indian casinos to be built in our state. Governor Andrew Cuomo -- who had pushed vigorously for the measure -- declared the outcome a win for New York. In reality, it was a win for a select few wealthy interests, while the rest of New York will pay the price.
Governor Cuomo claimed casinos would create jobs and raise revenue, by luring tourists and keeping New York gamblers from straying to other states. But as the experience of Atlantic City shows, the economic benefits of casinos are grossly exaggerated - especially today, when the casino market has reached saturation. The National Association of Realtors has found that casinos deplete the values of neighboring properties, calling the effect "unambiguously negative." Casinos also typically hurt nearby businesses, and their long-term social costs can be devastating. The industry makes around half of its revenues from problem gamblers, which include high numbers of the elderly and other vulnerable members of society. In some states the rate of problem gambling has tripled or quadrupled after casinos have opened shop, which has also led to higher rates of bankruptcy, fraud, and crippling debt. Not only do casinos not generate economic growth in communities, they actually extract from them. The idea that casinos make for sound economic development policy is flatly untrue.
So why did New York pass the amendment anyway?
Because Governor Cuomo tilted the vote in favor of the gambling industry. His aides helped rewrite language on the ballot to portray the amendment as a huge boon to the state, suggesting it could only lead to benefits, such as job creation, greater school financing, and lower taxes. Newspaper editorial boards and public interest groups across the state cried foul, noting their actions would massively mislead voters -- but the Cuomo administration kept the pro-casino wording on the ballot anyway.
There's good reason to think Governor Cuomo had his own interests in mind. Since 2005, he has directly collected over $1 million from gambling and horse racing companies - more than any other elected official or candidate in the state. The Committee to Save New York - the lobbying group created to promote Cuomo - took in another $2 million from the industry. After promising to ban casino developers from donating to elected state officials, Governor Cuomo abruptly took the measure off the table. In the lead-up to the vote, he let gambling lobbyists swarm Albany. As the media reported, there were more lobbyists representing the gambling industry than there are members of the Legislature.
The way Governor Cuomo handled the casino referendum was shameful. He let his private interests and the interests of his donors trump the interests of New York. As governor, I would pass strong campaign finance laws that would halt the dirty quid-pro-quo of Albany politics. I would also prohibit elected officials from accepting donations from casino operators. New York deserves an economic policy that generates real growth - not one that lets companies leech off us and our communities.