A Dirty Secret: Suicides at casinos

February 8, 2014 4:07 pm

A 39-year-old man jumped to his death at Genting’s slots casino in Queens, N.Y., the New York Post reported.

Sadly, suicides related to a gambling problem are not unusual. But the Post story claims – emphasis on claims – that the gambler was on a winning streak. “He was not in the hole,” the source told the tabloid newspaper. “Actually, he was up.”

First of all, it defies logic that a person would go on a winning streak and then jump 30 feet to their death in the middle of the casino. But even if true, the fact that casino sources felt the need to make clear that the gambler was “up” underscores the reality that gambling addiction can cause people to kill themselves. The reporting in this incident also underscores how the casinos and police often conspire to soften or even cover up suicides at casinos. (Getting assigned to a casino is considered a cushy assignment for police, who get to know workers and gamblers.)

Despite those efforts, there is no denying the link between gambling and suicide. In fact, Las Vegas – the biggest casino outpost in the country – is considered the suicide capital of America. But as more states legalize casinos, more and more gamblers are committing suicide across the country.

Just consider: In Gulfport, Mississippi, suicides skyrocketed 213 percent in the first two years the casino there opened. In Biloxi, suicides increased 1,000 percent in the first four years, according to this report. Indeed, the National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies, reports that 20 percent of pathological gamblers attempt suicide — a rate higher than for any other addictive disorder. The New York Times reported way back in 1997 that the rise in gambling matched an increase in suicides.

Read this sad story from a mother whose son had a gambling problem and ultimately killed himself. Here is just a random sampling of other casino-related suicides:

* Earlier this week, a Louisiana police chief shot himself in the head at a casino in Biloxi, Miss.

* In October, a 19-year-old committed suicide by jumping from the parking garage at the Showboat Casino in Atlantic City. (Read more here.)

* In 2013, an Illinois mother of three killed herself after her gambling addiction was exposed.

* In 2013, a woman jumped from the parking garage of a casino in Detroit. The police did not release her name let alone details as to the cause.

* In 2012, a man shot a killed a woman and then killed himself at a Las Vegas casino.

* In 2012, a woman jumped from the parking garage at a casino in Indiana. Again, ploice did not release any details as to the cause.

* In 2011, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania man killed himself by driving his car off the top of the parking garage at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. (Read more here.)

* In 2009, a man shot a casino worker in Atlantic City and planned to kill himself but was stopped by police. He had a suicide note on him.

* In 2005, a 23-year-old gambler shot himself in the mouth at a casino in Illinois after losing $900 in less than 15 minutes playing blackjack. (Read more here.)

* In 2000, an off-duty police officer who lost more than $15,000 at a casino in Detroit pulled out his service revolver and shot himself in the head. (Read more here.)

* In 1999, a string of three suicides in eight days at casinos in Atlantic City prompted The New York Times to detail how such killings are regular worry at casinos.

Beyond suicides, the stress of gambling losses leads people to smash slot machines in anger as The New York Times detailed here. The slot smashings took place at the same Genting casino in Queens where the gambler committed suicide.

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.

Casino industry lackey

October 28, 2013 9:44 am

Here is some insight into how the casino industry has made New York lawmakers - including Gov. Andrew Cuomo - swoon. Just read this over-the-top love letter to the Resorts World racino in Queens written by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Queens): http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/racino-good-gamble-article-1.1494716

Or perhaps that should be Sen. Addabbo (D-Resorts World).

The Resorts World public relations office couldn’t produce such shameless drivel and still maintain a straight face. But Sen. Addabbo manages to prattle on about the benefits of the Queens racino as if was the second-coming of General Electric or Apple. What an embarrassment.

Sen. Addabbo’s shameless piece describes Resorts World as an “anchor for local business” and a “pillar.” But Sen. Addabbo cites no economic data to support any of his claims other than the racino jobs, a new subway station built to funnel gamblers to the racino, and a blood drive the racino hosted. How ironic, considering the racino is expert at also bleeding gamblers dry of their money.

So why the love affair with casinos by New York lawmakers? Here’s one reason: Gambling interests have spent $59 million in New York on lobbying and campaign contributions since 2005. If New Yorkers vote to legalize commercial casino on Nov. 5, look for even more money to flow to lawmakers in Albany, including Sen. Addabbo.

Here’s my response to Sen. Addabbo’s pathetic op-ed. Thanks to the New York Daily News for publishing it: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/guest-casinos-losing-bet-article-1.1498271

Cuomo’s shifting casino policy

February 12, 2013 9:35 am

First it was seven casinos and a giant convention center next to a racetrack in Queens. Then it was a phased in plan starting with three casinos located in upstate New York to help struggling regions. Make that four casinos upstate. Now, it’s casinos wherever lawmakers want.

When it comes to shaping New York’s gambling policy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be playing roulette. Spin the wheel and see what umber comes up. Initially, Cuomo said the state was already in the gambling business but he planned to do it right. It turns out that Cuomo’s version of what is right is more like a game of three card monte.

In just one year Cuomo’s casino vision has changed four times. Five if you count that he never even mentioned adding casinos when he ran for governor. It is likley Cuomo’s casino plan will keep changing as competing gambling interests flood Albany with campaign contributions and lobby lawmakers in secret. It is all part of the mad scramble by casino operators to get a slice of New York’s gambling pie.

The process is often ugly and has no rhyme or reason. Money and power trump common sense. Thoughtful study and analysis are no where to be found. Same goes for the social and economic costs of the state pushing more gambling as a way to fund the government. When it comes to changing the Constitution to legalize casinos in New York, Cuomo and fellow Albany lawmakers are playing a backroom game of craps.

An offer the Senecas can’t refuse

February 6, 2013 5:00 pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest maneuver in his push to expand casino gambling in New York is more akin to the actions of a mob boss than the leader of a state.

Of course, Cuomo’s casino plan keeps changing so who knows what is next. Last year, he struck a closed-door deal with Genting, one of the biggest casino operators in the world, to build a convention center next to a racetrack in Queens. When that plan imploded after reports surfaced of huge cash donations by the casino firm to a nonprofit with ties to Cuomo, the gambling governor quickly folded that hand.

Now Cuomo wants to build a casino near an existing Indian casino in Niagara Falls. The proposal is seen as a way to force the Senecas, the Indian tribe that owns the casino, to begin paying the state the millions of dollars in tax revenue they have been withholding as part of a dispute. Initially, Cuomo said the new casinos would go to upstate locations in order to boost tourism. But it is clear this move is more about wielding power and getting the Indians to make their tribute payments to the state.

A second casino would offer stiff competition to the Senecas – something convenience casino operators avoid at all costs since there are only so many losers to go around in each market. While many local leaders praised Cuomo’s plan, it is unlikely to happen. If anything, a second casino will likely prompt more lengthy and costly litigation between the state and the Senecas. Cuomo’s plan sounds more like something from The Godfather, whereby Don Corleone uses strong-arm tactics to get his adversaries to do something they oppose by making them “an offer they can’t refuse.”

Casino issue divides state and local lawmakers

December 12, 2012 10:18 am

As New York lawmakes get set to move forward on a vote to legalize commercial casinos, a City Councilman in Queens wants residents to be able to decide if they want a gambling hall in their backyard.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) wants any effort to allow more casinos in the state to include an amendment that gives local residents more input. “We want an open, transparent process,” Koo said.

If Councilman Koo wants an open and transparent process, he has come to the wrong place. The initial casino vote in Albany last year occurred in the dark of night with no debate. The next one will probably be just as murky. In fact, the initiative was cooked up in a back room after Big Money from casino operators poured into Albany.

That may explain why Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder dismissed Koo’s proposal. “It adds a layer of bureaucracy that people are sick and tired of seeing,” said Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park). “Councilman Koo should focus on those challenges that lie ahead in New York City and allow us in the state legislature to do our job,” he said.

Yes, voters will eventually get to decide if the state Constitution should be changed to allow casinos. But that decision will be made mostly in a vacuum. In fact, Koo is missing the real issue. That is the lack of real information and public debate surrounding the policy impact of more gambling.

That’s why the Councilman and others should instead demand that Gov. Andrew Cumo and Albany lawmakers conduct an independent and impartial cost-benefit analysis to determine if the state Constitution should be changed to allow casinos. Such a study would show that casinos may add some jobs and generate tax revenue, but produce little new spending, while creating more gambling addiction and stripping wealth from the most vulnerable citizens. In the end, the increased social and economic costs will be passed on to all taxpayers. The only real winners are the casinos operators. In short, legalizing casinos in New York is a bad bet.

As it stands, about half the residents in the state oppose casinos. But if residents were better informed about the negative impact of more gambling, there would be even less support for the measure. That explains why state lawmakers want less, not more, input from taxpayers.

Casinos bet big on New York

September 20, 2012 9:06 am

This report by Common Cause may help explain why Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other legislative leaders suddenly want to change the state Constitution in order to allow commercial casinos in New York.

Since 2005, gambling interests have spent nearly $50 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in New York, according to an analysis by Common Cause. Translation: money talks. (Recall that Cuomo never even mentioned legalizing casino when he was running for office. Now it is at the top of his agenda.)

As the casino issue has heated up in the last year, there has been a surge in spending. Gambling interests have spent nearly $4 million on lobbying and more than $700,000 on campaign contributions in the first half of 2012, according to The New York Times.

The spending playbook by the gambling industry is the same one used to legalize casinos in other states. No doubt $50 million is a lot of money to most folks. But consider this: the new slots barn at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens is raking in more than $50 million in revenue a month. In other words, $50 million to buy up, er influence, some lawmakers is a great return on investment.

Look for the spending in Albany to continue as the gambling interests work hard to upend the Constitution and expand gambling across the state. Of course, opening the doors to more casinos, means lawmakers will enable a policy that strips money from the very residents they are sworn to protect. Indeed, that point gets lost in the river of money gushing into Albany from the casinos interests.

One more hidden gambling danger

July 6, 2012 9:50 am

A bus carrying gamblers that crashed in New York underscores one more danger for low-income people looking for a quick score.

The casino bus was taking gamblers from an Indian casino in Connecticut back to Queens when the driver lost control and crashed. Two dozen people were injured, including five who were seriously hurt. The casino bus was transporting mostly Asian immigrants. The so-called ‘budget buses’ have a history of safety trouble.

In May, the federal government shut down 26 budget bus operators. The buses operated out of Chinatown and traveled from New York to Florida. The buses were declared “imminent hazards to public safety.”

The crackdown followed a series of deadly crashes where drivers were not getting enough sleep and buses were not being properly maintained. Queens bus driver Kin Yiu Cheung was charged last year with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after he flipped his Chinatown-bound bus in Virginia. Two Queens women were among the four dead and police said Cheung, who was  driving despite being out on bail on a reckless driving charge, had been asleep  at the wheel.

NY casino strikes gold

June 19, 2012 2:09 pm

The racino at the Aqueduct race track in Queens is taking in almost $2 million a day from gamblers. The average daily haul makes the New York casino the highest grossing slots joint in the country. (Since the racino is owned by Genting, much of the profits end up in Malaysia where the company is located.)

The Resorts World racino at Aqueduct generated $57.5 million in revenue in May, down slightly from the $59 million it made in March. However, the May figure surpassed the $55.4 million in revenue gamblers dumped in the slot machines at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. That made Resorts World the highest grossing casino in terms of slots revenue. That also means the casino is stripping nearly $2 million a day in wealth from the pockets of New Yorkers.

The racino’s success is due largely to its New York City location. It also underscores why Genting and other casino operators are salivating at the prospects of expanding or locating in New York. Resorts World currently only offers slot machines.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the expansion to full-blown casinos, which would likely attract even more gamblers. That explains Genting’s huge financial support for a nonprofit with close ties to Cuomo. The New York Times recently reported that Genting gave $400,000 to the nonprofit advocacy group called the Committee to Save New York. While that figure may seem like a lot it is less than one day’s haul from the slots in Aqueduct.

In addition to Genting, unknown gambling interests gave another $2 million to the Committee to Save New York. The donations poured in just as Cuomo ramped up his support for legalizing casinos in New York. The idea for casinos reportedly came during a fundraiser for Cuomo in Westchester. (See the excellent Times editorial here calling for more sunlight on the gambling process.)

As a candidate for governor, Cuomo didn’t even mention casino as part of his policy initiatives. Now he is busy trying to change the state Constitution to allow casinos, a move that will generate increased social and economic costs across the state. The shift shows how the casino industry’s deep pockets are driving public policy in Albany.

New York casino deal falls apart

June 4, 2012 10:59 am

Now that Genting, the Malaysian gambling giant, has pulled out of a deal to build a $4 billion convention center next to its slots barn in Queens, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is searching for a new sucker, er, partner.

The New York Times reported that “uncertainty surrounding Cuomo’s efforts to push through a constitutional amendment to create a framework for casinos in the state made it difficult to reach a deal.” What uncertainty? It seemed like the deal was getting rammed through with little or no public debate. The other problem is this: Genting’s desire for exclusive gambling rights in New York City also hampered the talks, according to The Times.

That detail shows that this proposal was always more about a casino than a convention center. Claims that the project would create 10,000 jobs seemed dubious at best. Who would want to travel an hour from Manhattan to a convention in Queens? Of course, it never made sense for Cuomo to be negotiating privately with a casino company while the state had yet to legalize commerical casinos. Cuomo is now claiming he will have an open process. Right.

Indeed, Cuomo said other casino companies are interested in coming to New York, including MGM Resorts. Of course, all the problems that bogged down the Genting deal remain. As The Times reported: “The breakdown of the Genting plan also highlights the challenges confronting gambling companies now: the industry has matured to such a degree, and casinos have so proliferated in the Northeast, that competitors are desperately seeking to take market share from one another or to block their entry altogether.”

Look for the other casino companies to push to locate in Manhattan, a move Cuomo and other lawmakers have previously resisted. But when it comes to gambling, lawmakers are often quick to get behind whatever deal is on the table. Update: Cuomo and others signaled they are open to casinos in Manhattan.

As for Genting, the gambling company has had two recent major setbacks in its effort to expand gambling in the U.S. A proposal to build a giant casino resort in Miami failed to gain political support. The collapse of New York deal sent shares in Gentings tumbling. Genting spent nearly $900,000 on lobbying and campaign donations in New York last year, according to an analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group. That’s a drop in the bucket; a New York casino would like take in more a $1 million in gambling revenue a day.