Valley Views: Cuomo and Legislature not leveling with voters on casinos

Paul Davies, Poughkeepsie Journal, 10/13/2013

The effort to tip the scales in favor of casinos stems in part from polls that indicate voters are split over whether or not to legalize casinos. (After all there is a reason why the Constitution prohibits casinos.) Perhaps the opposition would grow if voters knew about the many social and economic costs that come with casinos. For example, studies show casinos result in an increase in crime, personal bankruptcy, divorce and suicide. Studies also show that those living within 50 miles of a casino have a much higher chance of becoming a problem gambler. Still another study by Baylor University professor Earl Grinols found that every $1 casinos bring in results in $3 in increased social costs.

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Subject: Gambling

More by: Paul Davies

From the start, the Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration has not leveled with New Yorkers about its casino plan.

So why start now?

The latest maneuver coming out of Albany is the rosy wording on the proposed ballot measure confronting voters before they decide whether to support changing the state Constitution to allow up to seven casinos in New York.

Traditionally, ballot measures use plain language and give no indication whether to vote yes or no. But the wording on the casino referendum says that changing the state Constitution to allow casinos will be "promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes."

Why not throw in a roll of quarters and a voucher for the casino buffet?

No surprise that Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders in Albany had a heavy hand in wordsmithing the ballot language. The Associated Press reported that an early draft of the referendum was more straightforward: "The purpose of the proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution is to allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate up to seven casinos. If approved, the amendment would permit commercial casino gambling in New York State."

This is not the first time Cuomo and company have tried to stack the deck in favor of casinos. The governor recently decided to place the casino referendum at the top of the ballot in hopes of giving it the best chance to pass.

The effort to tip the scales in favor of casinos stems in part from polls that indicate voters are split over whether or not to legalize casinos. (After all there is a reason why the Constitution prohibits casinos.) Perhaps the opposition would grow if voters knew about the many social and economic costs that come with casinos.

For example, studies show casinos result in an increase in crime, personal bankruptcy, divorce and suicide. Studies also show that those living within 50 miles of a casino have a much higher chance of becoming a problem gambler. Still another study by Baylor University professor Earl Grinols found that every $1 casinos bring in results in $3 in increased social costs.

Recall that Cuomo didn't even mention gambling as a candidate for governor. Then eight months after taking office, Cuomo said he was "actively investigating" whether to legalize casinos.

But instead of an independent cost-benefit analysis or public hearings on such a major policy change, Cuomo just announced his support for casinos four months later.

The first vote by the Legislature to amend the Constitution to allow casinos quickly followed and came late at night with little debate.

More alarming, the amendment to change the Constitution contained just eight words, tweaking the law to allow "casino gambling regulated by the state." Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio described the murky process this way: "Classic Albany: Three men in a room, huge log roll, no transparency."

The second casino vote came on the last day of the legislative session in June. But there was one problem: The state Constitution required lawmakers to have three days to review all bills. When it comes to amending the state Constitution, lawmakers should at least comply with the Constitution.

Perhaps the ultimate hypocrisy came when a provision prohibiting companies seeking a casino license from making campaign contributions was quietly removed from the final bill.

Clearly, the legislative leaders did not want to turn off the spigot of money that has been flowing into Albany. To be sure, Common Cause found that gambling and horse racing interests have spent $50 million on lobbying and campaign contributions between 2005 and 2012.

That may explain why Cuomo and company are doing whatever it takes to get voters to go along with the casino plan. But voters should ask themselves if casinos are such a worthy public policy, then why are the Albany leaders being so disingenuous?

This article originally appeared here.

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