Casino wheels at work

May 8, 2012 4:54 pm

Local TV is not known for much enterprise reporting these days. But this piece by the NBC affiliate in New York offers some good insight into the influence peddling that is behind the drive to legalize casinos.

The NBC piece focuses on Genting executive Christian Goode’s effort to bring a casino to Queens, N.Y. Goode is following the same formula used in other states: buy up influential lobbyists, throw around lots of money, and watch lawmakers dance like puppets on a string. (The gambling lobby is also a growing force at the federal level.)

Genting has spent $1.6 million on lobbying in New York since 2010, NBC reports. More importantly, the Malaysian company has hired the right the lobbyists with the right connections to the right people, as detailed here by The New York Times. They include a former top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a former attorney for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Mayor Bloomberg’s former campaign manager, and a long-time adviser to Cuomo. Those are the lawmakers who will essentially drive the entire process to undo the state Constitution in order to legalize commercial casinos in New York.

“What this company has done is hire lobbyists who are close to every single powerful decision-maker who might be involved in the ultimate decision,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, a nonprofit watchdog for money in politics. (Millions were also recently spent on lobbyists to legalize casinos in Massachusetts.)

Goode told NBC: “We supply entertainment that people demand.” What a farce. The average person in Queens is not calling their representatives or holding rallies demanding a casino in their back yard. Likewise, lawmakers refuse to examine the social and economic costs that come with gambling. Instead, lawmakers bend to the will of the deep pocketed casino interests at the expense of their constituents.

New York’s backroom casino deal

March 15, 2012 9:30 am

With little public debate and even less transparency, New York’s three most powerful elected officials cut a deal last night to change the state Constitution in order to allow up seven casinos. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quickly issued a press release last night announcing the backroom deal.

“Looks like classic Albany: Three men in a room, huge log roll, no transparency,” said political science Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College of the closed-door dealings during the annual Sunshine Week to encourage open government.

Gov. Cuomo said the casinos would ”ultimately put thousands of New Yorkers to work, drive our economy, and help keep billions of dollars spent by New Yorkers on gaming in the state.” But the governor provided no independent data or studies to support his claim.

Sure, casinos will create jobs and tax revenue. But studies show that the casinos create little economic spin-off and take business and jobs away from surrounding businesses. The casinos also will create more problem gambling, which leads to more crime, divorce and bankruptcy. Cuomo & Co. have not produced any data that would show those costs will be less than any benefits.

Casinos are a regressive tax that strip wealth from those who can least afford it. There is a reason why New York’s forefathers banned gambling in the state Constitution. Cuomo is correct that the state already has gambling in the form of lotteries and Indian casinos. But adding more casinos is not the answer to that problem. Lawmakers are take an oath to protect citizens not legalize policies that will ruin them.  See my recent op-ed in The New York Times that argues why this is a bad bet.

The late-night deal clears the way for the process to change the Constitution to allow commercial casinos. After two votes by state lawmakers, voters would then have to approve a referendum to allow the casinos. That vote is not expected before November 2013.