That, though, is what New York state voters will have on November 5th.
New York State Assembly Bill 8068, also known as Proposition 1 or the New York Casino Gambling Amendment, calls for a total of four full-service gambling houses to be built in three upstate areas: the Catskills, the Binghamton area, and around Albany or Saratoga. After seven years, three additional casinos would be approved for the New York City area. The measure passed the Statehouse March 18th and the State Senate on June 4th, with unanimous approval both times. Since the bill would involve revising the state constitution, it must now be approved directly by the voters. So what are its merits?
A pro-amendment organization, operating under “Vote Yes for NYS Gaming Amendment” and similar phrases, named “property tax relief, job creation, and more education funding” as reasons for passing the proposition. The case for casinos in the areas mentioned, though, goes much deeper.
First, the increased tax revenues, from income as well as corporate profits, could be quite large, and could go beyond either dedicated education support or lowered property taxes.
Second, even just one casino-hotel in each of these areas would help tourism considerably. It is now almost mandatory for tourist areas catering to adults to have at least one full-service gambling outlet, and racinos, with limited scopes and without table games are not sufficient. Casino gambling need not be the primary attraction, as it is in Las Vegas, but it needs to be available, as in, for example, New Orleans.
Third, casinos offer recreation to local residents. Not only do they offer gambling propositions vastly more fair than pari-mutuels and lotteries with their 20% and almost 50% player disadvantages, but the concerts, restaurants, headline shows, and nightclubs would be valued by many.
On the other side, all of the disadvantages commonly named by detractors are less significant than they may seem. It is true that about 5% of the population cannot handle gambling, but between lotteries, illegal online propositions, and racinos, they are not nearly as shielded from it as they were before the Internet and the spread of gambling outside Nevada. Some local businesses would suffer from new competition, but others of similar or greater economic impact would appear. Casinos are no longer destinations, so we could not expect truly massively increased numbers of visitors, but that same factor cuts down the amount of associated crime. In all, the proposition’s $500 tax on each slot machine or gaming table earmarked for problem-gambling-helping organizations may make Gamblers Anonymous and similar groups less overwhelmed, not more, given how many people in the area need their services as it is. Even police involvement may be more than mitigated by the opportunity for larger budgets.
Not every large business venture for Broome, Saratoga, and Sullivan County should be accepted. Hydraulic fracturing was rejected in almost every township in the latter, in large part because those wanting to bring it in were not able to show how it would help local residents. The people of every community with as great natural beauty as these three must reject plans that would disturb that too much.
In that context, the case for casinos, which would involve tearing up only a matter of acres of landscape, is as strong as any we are likely to see. Old resort areas need new reasons for people to come back. Full-scale casino-hotels average one full-time employee per guest room – a new or reopened 500-room facility near Liberty, as has been proposed, would mean that many new jobs, in a county with fewer than 32,000 of them now. Gambling, government sanctioned or not, has loomed large in the histories of both Saratoga and the Catskills, and today’s players want clean, legal casinos where their rights are consistently protected. New Yorkers living in these areas will gamble whether the proposition is passed or not; if not locally, much of their action will go, as it does now, to Pocono Downs, Foxwoods, Atlantic City, and therefore to the benefit of other state governments. In exchange for real but generally small and mitigated amounts of non-natural disturbances, we would get more freedom, and, in the case of Sullivan County, a conservative 1% unemployment-rate drop from one such facility all by itself.
Overall, we have to decide what we want. We can stay with what we have, which has a lot going for it but too few economic opportunities, even for current residents. Or we can bring in money and jobs in ways that will be unobtrusive to the massive majority of those who do not want to be involved with them. The choice, in this case, is clear.