N.Y. casino plan: a moving target

June 14, 2013 10:39 am

With just days to go before the legislative session ends in Albany, lawmakers and lobbyists there are still fighting over how many casinos to enable.

First Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed seven casinos. Then it was three. The latest odds place the number of casinos between four or five – with more to follow. Perhaps Cuomo & Co. should take bets from public.

Or just pick a number out of the hat. That would amount to the same amount of thought and analysis going into how many casino New York needs or can support. The process has nothing to do with policy or economics. It is all about the politics of trying to please competing gambling interests.

The same lack of analysis is going into setting the tax rate for the casinos, which is also a moving target as the deadline approaches for a second vote – which will likely occur late at night on the last day of the session with little debate – to change the state Constitution to allow commercial casinos. Such basics as the number of casinos and tax rate should have been decided long ago and not left up to last-minute backroom negotiations. But as is often the case, gambling legislation is done in secret and on the fly with little thought beyond who has the most juice to get what they want.

Cuomo’s bad bet

May 8, 2013 2:42 pm

Finally, a newspaper starts to raise some questions regarding Gov. Cuomo’s flimsy proposal to legalize commercial casinos. Kudos to the Albany Times Union for its strong editorial regarding the disingenuous way Cuomo and the legislative leaders in Albany have gone about trying to change the state Constitution in order to allow up to seven casinos across the state.

“Crossing one’s fingers and hoping for the best rarely works out well at the  blackjack table. It’s not a particularly good way to make laws, either,” said the Times Union, while noting Cuomo’s “disdain” for public debate.

One of the reasons why politicians can disregard voters and do as the please is the lack of a vigorous press that all too often plays the role of lapdog rather than watchdog. (A largely unengaged public is also to blame.) That’s what makes the Time Union’s editorial all the more welcome.

Albany’s newspaper of record raises a number of basic questions that have gone unanswered as Cuomo and other maneuver – mostly behind closed doors – to hammer out a casino deal. For starters, where will the casinos be located? Will local communities have any say in whether or not they want a casino? What is the tax rate for the casino revenue? Will the local communities get any of the revenue?

There are many other questions the paper did not raise. Changing the state Constitution is no small matter. Adding widespread gambling across the state impacts every resident, and creates economic and socials costs. Lawmakers and voters should know what those costs are before moving forward with such a major policy change.

At the very least, Cuomo should answer the many questions. There should be a public debate. The legislature should hold public hearings. An independent cost-benefit analysis should be done to determine if it is even wise to move forward with a major expansion of gambling.

The fact that Cuomo has not provided any information should be an indication why adding more casinos is a bad bet for New York. The public should demand some answers before any votes are taken.

New Yorkers split on casinos

April 11, 2012 11:39 am

A new poll shows New York residents are evenly divided regarding Gov. Cuomo’s plan to change the state Constitution in order to legalize commercial casinos.

Just think what the poll would look like if New Yorkers were fully informed about the negative economic and social impact of more gambling. The media in general does a pretty lousy and lazy job of covering this issue, and is often content to just regurgitate whatever elected officials and the gambling industry says.

There’s no doubt the casinos will create jobs and generate tax revenue. But there’s lots of independent data that shows the economic and social costs outweigh those benefits. In addition to those costs, the gambling industry has been shown to have a corrupting influence on elected officials. Not to mention, gambling revenues are an unsustainable and unpredictable way to fund the government.

More to the point, the casinos and the government only do well if citizens are losing money. Common sense would indicate that is a bad public policy. If the public was better informed on this issue, Cuomo and other elected officials would not even think about getting into the gambling racket.


Albany greases the gambling skids

March 27, 2012 1:25 pm

New York voters are more than a year away from getting a chance to decide if the state should legalize commercial casinos, but lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to overhaul the gambling commission.

Nothing like putting the cart before the horse.

Never mind the state’s Constitution prohibits gambling. Never mind the General Assembly voted to change the Constitution late at night with little public debate about the downsides of gambling, let alone an independent cost-benefit analysis of allowing more casinos. Never mind the General Assembly must take a second vote to change the Constitution. Never mind that voters must then approve the Constitutional change, even though the public has no idea where the casinos will be located or any other details for that matter. Never mind the entire process is taking place in secret behind closed doors in Albany. And never mind that the proposed gambling board doesn’t measure up to similar boards in other casino states like New Jersey or Nevada.

Details, details. Lawmakers are obviously confident they will wire, er, work out all the issues. But first things first: overhaul the gambling commission in order to grease the skids for all the changes by consolidating most of the power in the hands of Gov. Cuomo. That way the commission will be in position to ram through all the changes to a public policy designed to strip wealth from citizens, while making it appear like there was the pretense of a process.

Casino support slips in New York

March 7, 2012 11:58 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to change the state Constitution to legalize commercial casinos is losing public support and hurting the governor’s approval rating, a new poll says.

Just last month, 52 percent of New Yorkers polled were in favor of commercial casinos and 44 percent were opposed. Now, support for the casino has slipped to 49 percent, while opposition has increased to 48 percent, according to a Siena College poll.

At the same time, Cuomo’s approval rating has also dropped from 74 percent to 69 percent, the poll found. To be sure, the decline in support for casinos is not huge, but it is a telling drop considering the proposal was just floated in January. No doubt Cuomo remains popular. But New Yorkers clearly don’t seem crazy about Cuomo’s plan to turn New York into the next Las Vegas. Many voters realize that casinos come with social and economic costs that outweigh the tax benefits to the state. (Free plug department: See my op-ed in The New York Times for some of the reasons why casinos in New York are a bad idea.)

Interestingly, Cuomo’s father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, opposed casinos. And he was considered one of the more thoughtful elected officials that have come along in recent times. It will be interesting to see if Andrew Cuomo really wants his legacy to be that he was the Empire State’s godfather of gambling.

Cuomo’s bold “scheme”

March 5, 2012 10:06 am

Bill Keller has an interesting column today about the need to rethink New York’s public spaces, especially transit. Of course, compared with my hometown of Philadelphia and other Northeastern cities, New York is at the cutting edge in its approach to transit and other public spaces.

But I digress. The section that caught my attention was Keller’s pitch for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get behind more meaningful projects than building casinos.

Keller, the former New York times editor, writes: “After prolonged turmoil at the state level — four governors in five years — we have a shrewd, energetic and ambitious new chief executive, Andrew Cuomo, who ought to be looking for some signature projects. So far, Cuomo’s idea of a bold move is a scheme to have Malaysian gambling interests build a new convention center around the racetrack-and-slot-machine haven of Aqueduct, in an inaccessible corner of Queens. The plan may have some collateral payoff in Midtown, but I doubt that track-casinos — “racinos” is the term of art — are the sort of thing a prospective presidential candidate wants to hold up as his legacy.”

Ouch. It’s good to see that Keller is unimpressed with Cumo’s plan to generate tax revenue through a “scheme” implemented by a Malaysian gambling company. More to the point, casinos are a regressive tax that strip wealth mainly from those who can least afford it, while creating very little in the way of economic spinoff. More to Keller’s point, a guady mega casino next to a race track in Queens is hardly a legacy project that should make any governor proud, especially one with an eye on the White House.


New York’s casino propaganda machine cranks up

February 8, 2012 11:05 am

The gambling forces are gearing up for a fight over who will control the commercial casinos in the Empire State, as detailed in The New York Times.

Lost in the debate is whether New York should even change its Constitution – no small thing – in order to allow casinos. That public discussion has been largely skipped over. Instead, the fight is over who will get control of the lucrative rights to operate full-scale commercial casinos: slot machine operators, race track owners, Las Vegas casino owners, Native American tribes or a Malaysian-based casino giant.

The winners get to fleece New Yorkers out of their hard-earned money in effort to help fund the state bureaucracy in Albany and generate some mostly low-paying service industry jobs. But the casino backers are spinning a different story with a $240,000 ad campaign touting the jobs and tax revenue that will come from casinos. No mention, of course, of the social and economic costs that will come from more gambling – just the supposed benefits of a regressive tax. The way the gambling industry tells it, everyone is a winner, when in fact many who can least afford it will be losers. (That includes taxpayers. In Pennsylvania, the promised tax relief has not quite materialized.)

More troubling, Gov. Cuomo’s plan to change the very first article in the state Constitution is a bare bones eight-word amendment that offers no details about how many casinos will open, where they will be located, who will get the casino licenses or how that process will be decided. Yet, at the same time, Cuomo has apparently struck a deal with Genting, a Malaysian casino giant, to build a $4 billion convention center in Queens, next to a race track where it already has slot-like video machines. In return, Genting wants the exclusive and invaluable casino rights in New York City. (See here how Genting got the inside track.)

Sure, sounds like a backroom casino deal dressed up as a convention center. Why no bids or RFP? The stakes are very high and the policy implications too large for such Albany shenanigans. Not to mention most voters – even some gamblers - oppose such a move, according to a recent poll. Then there is this: Cuomo wants to build a new convention center while the old one is in the midst of a major renovation. Makes no sense. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg remains largely on the sidelines. 

All the gambling talk has stirred the Las Vegas casino owners into action. Before more deals are cut, Cuomo owes it to taxpayers to first make the case as to why the state should change its Constitution. If that goes forward - which would be a mistake - then at the very least there should be an open and transparent process to determine who, what, where, when and how the casino licenses will be awarded. Not to mention how will the state pay for the increased social and economic costs that come from casinos, including more crime, bankruptcy and divorce. (See here how other states have cut back on helping problem gamblers.)

Before the ad campaign continues and the casino owners start measuring for drapes, there should also be an independent analysis to determine if those costs outweigh the benefits. There is already ample evidence that indicates this is a bad public policy with lots of downsides and costs, including the corrupting influence of the government. Sure, this is the same misguided path other states have followed, but New Yorkers deserve better.

How to buy a casino: First hire lobbyists

January 13, 2012 8:21 am

Here’s the simple three-step guide to change public policy in order to legalize casinos in a state, as detailed by The New York Times today.

First thing a big casino operator does is buy up some land. And then buy up a bunch of influential lobbyists. Sprinkle around lots of cash and then watch lawmakers begin to dance like puppets on a string.

That appears to be the Genting Way. The Malaysian casino giant is literally buying its way into the halls of power in New York and Florida. This once again underscores the joint partnership between government and gambling.

Funny, some folks thought Gov. Cuomo just dreamed up the bright idea to change the state constitution in order to legalize casinos across the state all by himself. Or that residents were calling Albany clamoring for more slot machines.

In fact, here’s what happened. Genting bought some land in the Catskills. Then hired a bunch of well-connected lobbyists who used to work for Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and other key lawmakers. Next thing you know, Cuomo is pushing casinos in New York.

Never mind the state constitution prohibits gambling or the studies that show casinos result in increased crime, bankruptcy, suicide and divorce. How can a business that produces mainly nothing but losers be a good public policy?

Vegas wants a bite at the Big Apple

January 10, 2012 8:26 pm

Major casino operators in Las Vegas are scrambling to get a piece of the gambling business in New York City.

The casino operators were caught off guard by Gov. Cuomo’s announcement that Genting would build the country’s largest convention center in Queens, where it already owns a race track that provides slots-like video poker terminals. The New York Post reported last week that Cuomo planned to give Genting the exclusive casino rights in New York City in return for building the $4 billion convention center.

Such a deal shocked other casino operators who are now scrambling to hire lobbyists and get a piece of the Big Apple action, according to The Wall Street Journal. New York City is clearly a huge and lucrative market. Casino companies would pay big bucks to have access to New York.

That’s why it was stunning to learn Cuomo was negotiating with Genting in private. But Cuomo sent a letter to lawmakers saying he has not struck a deal and that he was committed to a transparent process. Yeah, right.

The process so far has been anything but transparent. Given the track record of casino deals in other states, anyone who believes the process in New York will be open and transparent probably believes they can get rich playing slot machines.

Cuomo deals Genting an inside straight?

January 6, 2012 9:35 am

It looks like the backroom dealing has already begun in Albany in the effort to legalize commercial casinos across the state. The New York Post reported that in return for building a convention center in Queens, the Malaysian-based casino giant Genting wants Gov. Cuomo to guarantee it the exclusive casino rights in New York City.

That would be quite a coup for Genting, given the vast wealth and population in the Big Apple. It would also explain why Genting would agree to build a convention center next to a so-called racino in Queens that it already owns. The last thing Genting wants is to spend big bucks on a convention center in Queens only to see another casino open in a more lucrative market like Manhattan or Brooklyn. This inside deal, if true, would give Genting a casino monopoly in New York City – exactly want gambling operators want.

It also shows how Gov. Cuomo has been busy negotiating casino deals in the backroom of Albany in advance of any bill even getting introduced to legalize casinos. (Usually casino licenses get awarded through a bid process. But it sure helps a casino operator to know in advance if it essentially has the winning bid.)

Sadly, this is the same backroom process that has been followed in state after state once lawmakers decide to get in bed with casino companies. Look for more of the same in Albany.