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Evidence doesn’t support casino claims

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In one of his blog postings last week, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham took issue with an editorial we published that day opposing the potential expansion of legalized gambling in New York State.

“This morning’s Time’s tome says passing Prop 1 will enslave New Yorkers for generations to live in a web of misery and despair,” Mayor Graham wrote Oct. 28. “Meanwhile, the [flier] my Conservative Party tenant got in the mail today tells a different story. It promises 10,000 new jobs and property tax relief ‘helping seniors and working families.’ …

“The [flier] says New Yorkers spend $1.2B in out-of-state casinos, and bringing that money home will fund our schools, lower our taxes and create jobs. Putting it that way, you would have to be a really grumpy person to vote no.”

I suppose that settles the matter. After all, if someone goes to the trouble of printing information on a flier, it must be true, right?

Well, maybe not. Those are optimistic claims being made by proponents of seven new casinos that would be created if a referendum measure to amend the New York State Constitution is approved by voters in tomorrow’s election. But while it’s easy to make such assertions, it’s trickier demonstrating that they’re likely to come about.

If it’s true that New Yorkers spend $1.2 billion per year at out-of-state casinos, the first question is why they aren’t spending that money here already. It’s not like they can’t find gambling action closer to home. New York has five Indian-run casinos complete with table games, while nine other so-called racinos with slot machines are located near racetracks throughout the state.

There must be something about the out-of-state casinos these New Yorkers prefer. It’s a good bet that a generous portion of this $1.2 billion goes to major gambling destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, which offer multiple gaming resorts along with entertainment.

If these gamblers aren’t drawn to the 14 gaming operations now located in New York State, what makes anyone believe that adding seven more similar facilities will make a difference? Bypassing local casinos, these gamblers prefer to take additional time to travel out of state — so it’s not an issue of convenience. Saturating the state with more gaming sites, therefore, isn’t going to lure the big money home.

Mayor Graham actually made this point for me in another one of his blog posts last week. On Tuesday, he cited “a Siena Poll [that] shows the measure likely to pass in the key NYC market where those surveyed favor seven upstate casinos but also say they would not likely want to visit them.”

Exactly. Many of those who would favor expanding gambling in New York State will be inclined to continue using out-of-state facilities, or they simply aren’t gamblers.

So now that the high-rollers have turned up their noses at local gaming sites, who’s left to fill the coffers of these seven new casinos? It will be the people who aren’t in a position to journey to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to throw their money away.

Many of these people are likely to be problem gamblers who cannot afford to toss dollar after dollar in a slot machine — but they’ll do it anyway if given the chance. The gambling industry preys on these individuals to keep their operations profitable, no matter the social cost.

As it turns out, it won’t take a “really grumpy person” to vote against expanded gambling in New York State. It will take someone who recognizes when the stakes are too high in a dubious bet and the payoff virtually nonexistent.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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