New Hampshire rejects casinos

March 14, 2014 11:14 am

The casino industry almost always gets its way in state capitals - once the lobbyists and campaign contributions roll in. But a majority of House members in New Hampshire voted down a plan yesterday to legalize casinos in the Granite state.

The 173-144 vote against adding one casino in New Hampshire was rebuke for Gov. Maggie Hassan, the main backer of more gambling. Other proposals to allow six slots parlors were also rejected.

It would be nice to say the vote signals that the tide is turning against casinos, which have failed to deliver on many of the promises in other states. But it is more likely the vote is a testament to the truly democratic way New Hampshire’s House is structured. The members are only paid $100 a year and many are retirees. Unlike other states, New Hampshire’s House members are not slick career politicians beholden to special interests.

Most important, the House members understand that a public policy built around inducing residents to gamble away their hard-earned money is a bad way to fund the government.

Delaware props up faltering casinos

March 14, 2014 9:52 am

Here is a peak at the future for other states that get into the casino game.

Delaware used to generate millions in tax revenue from its three casinos. But competition from surrounding states killed the golden goose.

So now, Delaware lawmakers – who are beholden to the gambling industry - are scrambling for ways to help the casinos make money. Last year, Gov. Jack Markell gave the casinos an $8 million bailout. Then he appointed a panel to come up with other ways to help the casinos. Here is some of what the panel is recommending:

* Eliminate the annual $3 million table games fee paid by the casinos.

* Slash the tax rate the casinos pay on table game revenue from 29.4 percent to 15 percent.

* Split 75 percent of the costs for slot machine vendors and fees, rather than have the casinos continue to pay the full amount.

The moves are expected to cost the state $20 million. What other businesses could get such concession from the government once profits dropped? Only when you give large enough campaign contributions will lawmakers do what you want.

The concessions underscore what other states face once their casino revenues drop – as in happening in many states now that the gambling market has become saturated. Once states get hooked on gambling, the lawmakers are forced to do whatever it takes to help prop up the casinos. Just goes to show that the House always wins.

Florida casinos: Wait ’til next year?

January 27, 2014 9:47 am

It turns out, election-year politics may force Florida lawmakers to delay voting on any major gambling bills until 2015, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Gov. Rick Scott is up for re-election and apparently does not want to get bogged down in a controversial debate about gambling. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are wrestling with a bunch of thorny issues surrounding gambling, including whether to legalize slot machines at racetracks; allow major commercial casino resorts; or renew a gambling pact with an Indian tribe.

Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told The Times a modest bill that tightens loopholes may be all that gets passed this year, while the bigger gambling issues wait another year. “If an election year has any influence, it could influence the magnitude of what’s undertaken,” Richter told the paper.

As is often the case, lawmakers prefer to work out gambling deals in the backroom so as not to cause much public attention or media scrutiny until it is too late. (See Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York for recent examples of where gambling was legalized with little public debate.) Not to mention, lawmakers often prefer to use the election year to raise more money from gambling interests and then return the favors later.

Gov. Scott knows gambling is a controversial topic that does not have wide public support. So rather than risk upsetting voters, it appears he will follow the advice of Scarlet O’Hara, who famously said at the end of “Gone With The Wind”: “Tomorrow is another day.”

Genting’s shifting casino plan in Florida

January 20, 2014 9:03 am

Remember when casino giant Genting claimed it was going to build an elaborate multi-billion dollar resort in Miami? Now, it turns out the Malaysian-based operator will settle for a bare-bones slots barn.

Talk about showing your cards. It seems Genting will say and do whatever it takes to bring more gambling to Florida. That is really what the casino debate is all about.

Recall in 2012 how Florida lawmakers rejected Genting’s effort to build a destination casino resort in Miami. That came after Genting hired an army of influential lobbyists and spent more than $1 million pushing to legalize casinos in the Sunshine State.

Now, Genting has shifted gears and is pushing a plan to team up with a racetrack operator to build a slots-only facility in South Florida. So much for the glamorous tourist resort. Genting is now targeting local and repeat slots gamblers.

The new plan will add nothing to the economy and do little to attract tourists. Instead, Genting wants to just bleed the local gamblers with a giant slots barn.

The Florida plan sounds a lot like the Genting slots barn at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, New York. That facility rakes in nearly $2 million a day and is one of the most profitable gambling halls in the country. The Queens facility does not attract tourists and instead caters to mostly local gamblers.

New York Times columnist Michael Powell captured the scene in Queens when he described Genting’s Resorts World as resembling an “airport departure lounge mated with a pinball machine.” The Times’ Clyde Haberman also interviewed gamblers at the Genting slots hall and found not many were there for fun or looked anything like James Bond. Expect the same scene in Florida if Genting gets its way.

Genting was behind the effort to legalize casinos in New York. Genting’s influence was on display in New York. As a candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo never even discussed casinos. But less than a year into his term he began pushing the idea – thanks to some help and money from Genting.

Now that casinos are legalized in New York, Genting is showing its true colors. After touting how casinos will bring jobs to New York, Genting recently announced nearly 200 layoffs. Likewise, Genting’s initial Florida plan was going to create lots of jobs, but those plans have been scaled back as well.

In Florida, Genting is poised to do whatever it takes to bring more gambling into the state.

Taking on casino creep

December 12, 2013 9:43 am

The casino industry used the economic downturn to push its way into a number of states where lawmakers are desperate to generate new tax revenue and create jobs despite the long-term costs of gambling. Now, there are signs that taxpayers are pushing back against the casino creep.

In Massachusetts, residents have collected enough signatures to call for a vote to repeal the 2011 casino law. This clears a major hurdle in the effort to stop the spread of casinos in Massachusetts, but repeal supporters still have to convince the state’s highest court to overturn an earlier ruling by Attorney General Martha Coakley that the proposed question is unconstitutional.

Scott Harshbarger, the state’s former attorney general, is helping to lead the fight. More amazing, the three lawmakers who drove the casino effort – Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray – have each said they do not want a casino in their respective hometowns. What does that say about the industry?

At the very least, the grassroots effort has placed casinos among the top issues in the race for governor in Massachusetts. Several candidates have said they are opposed to casinos. Meanwhile, casino opponents are gearing up for another fight to stop the spread of casinos in New Hampshire. Check out Casino Free New Hampshire’s 30 reasons to oppose casinos.

A group in Florida, that is funded in part by Disney, is continuing to fight the effort to legalize commercial casinos in the Sunshine state. Polls show residents are evenly divided on the issue. Former state lawmaker Paula Dockery provides an overview of the political landscape in Florida here.

Gambling spreads to Pennsylvania bars

November 20, 2013 9:47 am

First it was slots to help the horse racing industry. Then full-blown casinos to supposedly reduce property taxes. Now, Pennsylvania is set to legalize gambling in bars and taverns.

It won’t be long before the state is pushing Internet gambling, online lottery sales and slot machines at airports. In case you haven’t noticed, Harrisburg lawmakers have become one of the biggest gambling addicts in the state.

The state is hooked on the tax revenue that comes from gambling. That explains the latest push to allow gambling in bars and taverns. The move produces little to no economic value and just makes it easier for residents – especially the poor, minorities and working class – to gamble away their paychecks. It is just an extension of the bad public policy that began with the push to legalize slot machines – not to mention the lottery.

Elected officials should look for ways to protect citizens, not strip wealth from them. They should also look for ways to grow the economy rather than push more and more regressive gambling policies.

The African American leaders who endorsed a casino on Market Street in Philadelphia should be ashamed of themselves. The developer claims the proposed casino would benefit African-Americans and Asians, when in fact its location near a public transit hub and Chinatown will only ensure more minority gamblers leave the casino poorer, and many will become addicted to gambling, leaving families even worse off.

Studies show casinos create more costs than benefits. Studies also show there is a decrease in property values and an increase in crime, divorce, suicide and bankruptcy in the areas where casinos locate. To argue otherwise is either disingenuous or ignores the facts. This report here details the many studies that show casinos do more harm than good to a community.

Fahrenkopf’s casino spin: “Mostly False”

November 13, 2013 9:25 am

The gambling industry’s longtime lobbyist and mouthpiece Frank Fahrenkopf was paid millions of dollars annually ($4.6 million in 2011 alone) to spin tales about the wonders of ”gaming.”

In June, Fahrenkopf stepped down from his post as chief executive for the American Gaming Association, the influential lobbying organization (read: money). But he has not stopped spreading inaccurate information about the benefits of gambling.

Only this time PolitiFact Florida, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking organization, called Fahrenkopf for his truth-stretching. See here: It began after Fahrenkopf wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald last month claiming that many of the visitors that travel to casino resorts do not gamble.

“The majority of people travelling to these destination resorts are not going for the primary purpose of gambling,” he wrote. “They are visiting to dine at five-star restaurants, watch incredible live shows or participate in business meetings or conventions. Every year, thousands of people flock to these resorts to watch golf tournaments or tennis matches and never set foot in a casino.”

Yo, Frank, if that is the case why not just build the resort and not the casino?

PolitiFact dug into Fahrenkopf’s claim and found that it was “mostly false.” That was putting it nicely.

Fahrenkopf based his claim on a 2012 study by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that found 47 percent of all visitors said their primary reason for visiting Las Vegas was vacation or pleasure. Eight percent said they came primarily to gamble. But PolitiFact said the survey questions were open-ended and only asked the “primary” reason for the visit. For example, the survey did not ask if people would have come if the casinos did not exist.

Also, Las Vegas is a different animal from other casino markets in the country, which cater mainly to locals who primarily go to gamble. Indeed, a 2013 study by Fahrenkopf’s own organization, AGA, found that 53 percent of people who frequent casinos across the country always or almost always, gamble.

There is no evidence that Florida casinos would attract mainly tourists – and not gamblers. In fact, residents, not tourists, account for 93 percent of the $2.4 billion in estimated revenue collected by existing casinos in Florida, according to a recent report commissioned by the state Legislature.

New York’s real casino games begin

November 11, 2013 10:37 am

Now that Gov. Cuomo and Albany lawmakers have rammed through the constitutional amendment to legalize commercial casinos, the real games begin as operators maneuver to land a lucrative gambling license.

If history is any guide, the players with the most political clout and deepest pockets will receive a casinos license. Just look at Pennsylvania where the biggest campaign contributors and best connected friends of then-Gov. Ed Rendell and other key influential leaders in the House and Senate were awarded casino licenses – including many who had no casino experience. The winners included two convicted felons.

In New York, it is a safe bet that Cuomo & Co. have a pretty good idea who is going to get the four initial casino licenses. In fact, Albany has already earmarked the geographic areas where the casinos will go and can’t go. That decision was based more on politics than thoughtful economic analysis.

James Featherstonhaigh, a gambling industry lobbyist, part-owner of a Saratoga racino and longtime Cuomo family friend told Crain’s New York he did not know who would get a casino license.

“I don’t have any idea,” Featherstonhaugh said, apparently with a straight face.

The reality is Featherstonaugh is almost assuredly a lock to get a casino license in Saratoga. Other connected players likely to get a casino license include Jeffrey Gural, the owner of the Tioga Downs racino. Gural contributed $400,000 toward a group that purchased ads urging residents to vote to legalize casinos. He will be looking for a return on his investment.

Another likely winner will be Genting, the Malaysian-based casino giant. Genting controls Empire Resorts, which owns the Monticello racino. Genting also owns the lucrative Resorts World racino at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens. Genting led the casino push shortly after Cuomo was elected and was a major donor to a nonprofit created to back Cuomo’s legislative agenda.

That leaves the rest of the less connected players to fight for the fourth casino license, including Caesars, the Las Vegas operator whose bid for a casino license in Massachusetts was rejected because of its $24 billion in debt and alleged ties to organized crime in Russia. See The New York Times report here.

Days after getting turned away in Massachusetts, Caesars pumped $100,000 into Cuomo’s efforts to pass the casino referendum. Caesars knows how the game gets played. Casino licenses usually go to the best connected and biggest donors.

Once that wheeling and dealing ends, look for Las Vegas operators like Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adeslon’s Las Vegas Sands and MGM to push for casino licenses in Manhattan.

NY voters confront rigged casino ballot

November 5, 2013 11:59 am

After more than two years of backroom negotiations and Albany-style deal making, voters in New York will decide if the state should change its constitution to allow commercial casinos.

The wording on the ballot has been rigged in an effort to trick voters into believing that more gambling will provides benefits but no costs. As this CBS report shows, not all voters are buying it.

James Cahill of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council dismissed evidence that shows casinos produce little new spending and are essentially a regressive tax that strips wealth from communities and hits the elderly, working class and minorities the hardest. Casinos also lead to increased crime, divorce, suicide and bankruptcy in the areas surrounding where they locate.

One study found that every $1 in revenue generated by casinos leads to $3 in social costs - that all taxpayers will pay whether they gamble or not. Other studies have found that anywhere from 30 to 55 percent of casino revenues come from problem gamblers.

Promises of jobs and economic development have done little to reverse the economic fortunes of other areas that have legalized casinos. See Atlantic City, Detroit and Mississippi.

In Illinois, the casinos have helped to create more problem gamblers than jobs.  That explains why one New Yorker said she intends to vote against the casino proposal: “I’m voting no. I’m a gambler and I want to save me from myself,” said Vida Antoinette.

New York casino vote all about money

November 4, 2013 10:54 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks a good game about casinos creating jobs and tourism. But the real motive behind his push to change the state constitution in order to allow up to seven casinos in New York is money - for gambling interests and state coffers.

That money ultimately will come mainly from the pockets of New Yorkers who would be the losers in this zero sum game.

For some insight into how much money plays a role in the casino vote just look at Tioga Downs, a dumpy harness track and slot parlor in upstate New York. Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural has spent more than $400,000 to influence the vote for casinos. Gural is not even guaranteed a license but he is expecting a return on his investment.

If Gural gets a casino license, he plans to spend $90 million sprucing up his slots joint. But what about all those great jobs Cuomo has been touting? If Tioga Downs gets a casino license, Gural plans to add 200 permanent jobs paying about $10 an hour or $20,000 a year. That’s about the equivalent of opening a Wal-Mart, not counting the costs that come from casinos. (See The New York Times story here).

In short, about the only person in Tioga County who will see a major economic boost from the casino in Gural. That’s why he has shelled out $400,000 to win the casino vote. That’s also why gambling interests overall have spent $59 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in Albany since 2005. That’s also why Cuomo is acting like the gambling interests’ puppet on a string.