On Tuesday, New Yorkers will decide whether the state should allow up to seven new resort style casinos. Supporters claim it’s not about gambling, but new jobs and other benefits. Opponents say those claims are just spin.
The proposal would amend the state’s constitution to change the current prohibition on gambling casinos, and allow up to seven resort style gambling centers to be built.
Supporters, including a coalition of business and labor groups, have been gathering donations and running television ads. The spots focus not on expanded gambling, but on potential benefits the casinos could bring, like new jobs.
“For new jobs and revenue for better schools vote yes on proposal one,” a narrator intones, as images of construction workers and teachers and students in a classroom flash on the screen.
The ads don’t mention the word gambling. A radio ad doesn’t even use the word casino.
The President of the New York State’s Business Council, Heather Briccetti, says the claims of economic benefits are legitimate.
“We believe that the passage of this proposal will result in job creation,” Briccetti said. “And will result in new revenue to local governments and municipalities that doesn’t involve increasing taxes.”
Even the actual language of the amendment promotes the possible related benefits. The ballot proposal says the amendment’s purpose is to create jobs, generate more money for schools, and cut taxes.
Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says that’s a complete departure from the neutral language traditionally used in the past to list amendments on the ballot.
“It’s more spin than a roulette wheel,” Horner said. “They could easily have just put a period after the words seven casinos. Because that’s all the constitutional amendment does.”
NYPIRG does not have a position on whether gambling is bad or good, but the group did file an amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging the casino amendment wording. The case was thrown out when a judge said the suit had not been brought soon enough. No one has claimed authorship of the rosy amendment language.
Opponents are incensed by what they say is an inaccurate portrayal about what the casinos would bring. But they have little money to get their argument across. They’ve published academic style reports that show gambling expansion in other states has led to more problem gambling. And they have resorted to attention getting incidents, like smashing a slot machine with a sledgehammer outside the state Capitol.
David Blankenhorn, with Institute for American Values, organized the smashing party. He says gambling preys on the poorest in society.
“It’s a regressive public policy,” Blankenhorn said. “It’s a policy that takes from the have- nots and distributes it to the haves.”
Governor Cuomo, who proposed the casino expansion and convinced the legislature to pass it, has mostly stayed in the background. But when asked, he makes the case that casinos are already here. Indian tribes run casinos in Niagara Falls, Central New York, and the North Country. And many New Yorkers have easy access to gambling in neighboring state like Connecticut and New Jersey.
“It’s not really gambling versus no gambling,” Cuomo said. “I think it passes, but it’s a sophisticated argument, no doubt.”
Polls show a slim majority of New Yorkers support building new casinos, when they are read the exact ballot language that includes the claims of job creation and tax reduction.
Even if the amendment fails, there will still be more gambling outlets in New York. The legislation passed earlier this year says if the casinos are voted down, the state can use instead exploit a loophole in the constitutional ban. It allows for the operation of more slot machines, as long as they are called video lottery terminals, and connected to the New York State Lottery system.