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.

TV ad: Cuomo’s dad dissed casinos

November 1, 2013 9:46 am

A group opposed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to change the state constitution to legalize commercial casinos launched a TV ad that uses Cuomo’s father to make their case.

In the ad, a narrator recounts what former Gov. Mario Cuomo once said about casinos:

“There is a respectable body of economic thought that holds that casino gambling is actually economically regressive to a state and a community. Casinos are a whole different breed. It changes communities. It does not generate wealth, it just redistributes it.”

The ad then says: “Mario Cuomo didn’t support changing the New York State constitution to allow Las Vegas-style casinos. He knew gambling was a bad bet for New York. Vote with Cuomo. Vote ‘no’ on Proposition 1.” See the ad here.

The Cuomo administration immediately responded by getting Cuomo’s dad to essentially reject his position.

“I made those statements in 1994. A great deal has changed in 20 years,” Mario Cuomo said in a statement. “The New York that I was dealing with was a different place. We didn’t have casinos on every border. Gaming was only in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Today couldn’t be more different . . . New York is surrounded by states that have casino gaming – and casinos are a short drive from anywhere in the state. So New York has to compete with out of state gaming.”

The group that released the ad responded to Mario Cuomo’s comments.

“What hasn’t changed since 1994 is the fact that casino gambling continues to be a form of regressive taxation - and casino gambling ‘changes communities’ for the worse. What also hasn’t changed is that casinos take advantage of those who can least afford it. That’s why everyone from The New York Times to the New York Post, to the head of the Conservative Party to stalwart progressive elected officials like State Senator Liz Krueger, urge a NO vote on Proposal 1,” a spokesman for the Committee Against Proposition 1 said.

Unlike his thoughtful father, Andrew Cuomo made clear that he is now forever “linked” to casino gambling. Despite never mentioning casinos while campaigning for governor, Andrew Cuomo made casinos the cornerstone of his economic agenda just months after getting elected.

As a result, there is a lot riding on the Nov. 5 casino vote for Cuomo. That’s why Cuomo cut a variety of deals with competing gambling interests and rigged the wording on the ballot referendum. Polls showed voters were divided on casinos, but support increased after voters saw the rigged language on the referendum.

Fred Dicker of the New York Post wrote recently that Cuomo was worried about losing the casino vote, feeling that his “personal prestige” was on the line.

Note to Andrew Cuomo: There is nothing prestigious about pushing a regressive business that does not produce anything; does not generate new spending; takes advantage of vulnerable citizens; has a corrupting influence of government and gets a third or more of its revenue from repeat and problem gamblers.

There was a time when a smart governor named Mario Cuomo knew that.

Slot-smashing good time

October 16, 2013 10:27 am

It was a perfect day to smash a slot machine in Albany. David Blankenhorn and others smashed a slot machine outside the Capitol yesterday to raise awareness about the research that shows casinos do more harm than good.

The smashing was also done to underscore the point that there was a time when elected officials opposed the spread of gambling. Real leaders like legendary Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia crusaded against slot machines, which he called “mechanical pickpockets.”

Slot machines are still mechanical pickpockets. If anything, today’s computerized slot machines are sophisticated devices that are even more addictive. But what has changed is that elected officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo – backed by large campaign contributions from gambling interests – are actively working to legalize slot machines.

So rather than protect citizens from the harms of gambling, Cuomo and others want to use individuals’ gambling losses of to help fund the government. The smashing received a lot of media coverage. Here are just some of the links for your viewing and reading pleasure:

David .vs Goliath: Blankenhorn challenges Cuomo to a debate

October 14, 2013 7:07 am

David Blankenhorn has challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to a debate about casinos.

Blankenhorn is the author of “New York’s Promise: Why Sponsoring Casinos is a Regressive Policy Unworthy of a Great State.” (Read it here: Meanwhile, Cuomo is leading the effort to change New York’s constitution to legalize casinos.

The state constitution prohibits casinos but a referendum is on the Nov. 5 ballot that, if approved, would clear the way for New York to allow up to seven casinos.

Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, which supports this blog, believes it is wrong for states to try to fund government operations off of the backs of gamblers. He wrote an op-ed in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (read it here: in which he offers to debate Cuomo about the costs and benefits of casinos in order to “help New Yorkers reach an informed decision on this important question of public policy.”

No word if Cuomo will engage in a debate. But don’t hold your breath.

Great political leaders smash slot machines

October 11, 2013 9:57 am

What is the difference between a great political leader like former New York Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia and current Gov. Andrew Cuomo?

One smashed slot machines, the other wants to legalize them.

David Blankenhorn and other civic leaders plans to go to Albany on Tuesday to honor LaGuardia by smashing a slot machine outside the Capitol.

The event will honor the leadership of LaGuardia, who helped rid the city of slot machines in the 1930s in part by smashing the “mechanical pickpockets” with a sledgehammer. By comparison, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other elected leaders of the state want to change the state constitution in order to legalize slot machines and spread more gambling across the state.

Blankenhorn explains why legalizing casinos remains a bad public policy for New York and other states in a powerful op-ed in the New York Daily News. (See link here: The op-ed is an offshoot of the book Blankenhorn wrote that frames the issue well and explains the difference between today’s political leadership and LaGuardia’s. (See the link to that piece here:

Bishops question casinos in New York

September 30, 2013 9:37 am

New York’s Roman Catholic bishops voiced deep concern over the increased social costs that will come with more gambling if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to legalize commercial casinos is approved.

In a statement released Sunday, the Bishops said the constitutional referendum facing voters on Nov. 5 is “an important matter affecting our communities.” The Bishops said in recent years the state has “dramatically increased access to legalized gambling in an effort to raise revenue,” including multi-state lotteries and creating several video lottery terminal facilities.

But those benefits come with social and economic costs. “Even if the state does realize economic benefits envisioned by our elected officials, we voters must also consider the potential for negative consequences,” the statement said.

New York casino ballot’s rosy spin

September 16, 2013 9:52 am

From the start, the Cuomo administration has not leveled with the public about the full impact of casinos in New York. So why start now?

The proposed ballot measure that will be presented to voters in November 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.”

The Associated Press reported that Cuomo had a heavy hand in wordsmithing the ballot language. “Before it was recast by Cuomo and the Legislature, the referendum stated simply: ‘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,’ ” the AP’s Mike Gormley reported.

Polls indicate voters are evenly divided over legalizing casinos. So wording that promises jobs, lower taxes and more school funding could help tip the scales on Election Day.

Of course, there is no mention of the many social and economic costs that come with casinos. Studies show that casinos also result in increased crime, personal bankruptcy, divorce and suicide. Studies also show that those living close to casino have a increased chance of becoming a problem gambler. Still other studies have found that casinos also result in job losses at other existing businesses like restaurants and retailers that can’t compete. One study by Baylor University professor Earl Grinols found that every $1 casinos bring in results in $3 in increased social costs. (See here for other costs.)

But when it comes to casinos, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other gambling boosters usually oversell and under deliver. That’s what happens in other states that have legalized casinos. See Pennsylvania where many residents are still waiting for casinos to produce $1 billion in property tax relief.

A New York Daily News editorial said Cuomo is “not playing straight” with voters on casinos. “The forces pushing for expanded gambling in New York — including Gov. Cuomo — are  perverting the constitutional amendment process by putting what amounts to a  pro-casino campaign advertisement on the ballot this fall,” the Daily News editorial said. The New York Times said the wording should be simple and straightforward.

In addition to the disingenuous wording, Cuomo also placed the casino referendum at the top of the ballot to make sure voters don’t forget to vote for it. See a previous post on that maneuverer here. This is all part of the broader misleading campaign to ram the casino measure past the public without holding public hearings or conducting an independent cost-benefit analysis that measures the true impact of casinos.

Cuomo’s $1 billion casino pitch

July 30, 2013 9:19 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly said legalizing casinos in New York will create an estimated $1 billion in economic activity.

Gee, that sure sounds like a lot of money. But where did the figure come from? What does $1 billion in “economic activity” really mean? Will the $1 billion figure be reached in one year or 10?

Cuomo has never attempted to answer those questions, just as he has avoided any debate about the costs and benefits of casinos. But David Blankenhorn uncovered the source of the $1 billion figure, as detailed in his recent op-ed in the Albany Times Union.

Turns out a footnote from one of Cuomo’s speeches cites the source as a leading casino supporter/lobbyist. James Featherstonhaugh tossed out the $1 billion figure during an interview with the Albany Business Review in 2011.

When it comes to the casino debate, Featherstonhaugh is not an impartial observer. He is a powerful lobbyist in Albany. He is one of the owners of the Saratoga Racetrack, which wants to add casino gambling to its site. He is also president of the New York Gaming Association, the organization created to push for casinos. He also happens to be a longtime Cuomo family friend and advisor to Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

It would seem that before the governor of New York pushes a major new policy initiative that requires changing the state constitution, he would at least do some due diligence to determine the costs and benefits of unleashing more gambling on citizens. Instead, the Albany lawmakers have avoided any independent studies. There have been no public hearings. And very little debate from lawmakers.

Instead, Cuomo has essentially used an off-the-cuff quote from a gambling supporter as the basis of his push to legalize casinos. Surely, the great state of New York can do better than that.

The best case for a casino

July 9, 2013 10:57 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other casino supporters like to hype the benefits from the gambling traps. Critics likewise highlight the social and economic problems that follow casinos, including increased crime, bankruptcy, suicide and divorce. Not to mention, casinos strip wealth from a community and create very little economic spin-off.

But this piece takes a clear-eyed look at whether casinos will transform struggling towns in the Catskills and other parts of New York into economic engines. Here’s the best case: casinos in rural areas lead to a spike in jobs, but few ancillary businesses. Meanwhile, casinos in big cities have no noticeable impact on overall employment. They just switch around the jobs that already exist.

Chad Cotti, an economist at the University of Connecticut, also found that placing casinos in remote areas seemed to increase the number of fatal car crashes. (That’s what has happened near the Indian casinos in Connecticut.) That’s the best Cuomo and other casino supporters can muster? A brief spike in jobs and more deaths from drunk driving. Some legacy. Cuomo and other casino supporters should be proud.

Cuomo’s secrecy campaign

June 11, 2013 8:23 am

So much for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s promise to run the most transparent administration in state history.

Cuomo’s paranoia has gone so far his administration refuses to release a video his aides put together for an annual press dinner that pokes fun at his reputation for secrecy. The New York Times was forced to file a Freedom of Information request for the video. More than a year has passed and the administration has yet to release the video. Turns out that when it comes to secrecy, the Nixon and Obama administrations have nothing on Cuomo.

That doesn’t bode too well for getting the Cuomo administration to operate in the sunshine when it comes to any meaningful policy discussion such as his push to change the state Constitution to legalize commercial casinos. Much of that debate has taken place in secret among powerful lawmakers, lobbyists and casino operators.

If Cuomo can’t release an innocuous video that has already been shown to the media, then there is no reason to expect the governor to conduct any of the public’s business in public.