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.

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.

Casino measure approved: Cuomo wins; NY loses

November 6, 2013 5:58 am

New Yorkers voted to change the state constitution to legalize up to seven casinos across the state.

The controversial measure was approved by 57 percent of voters. The vote likely would have been closer if the Cuomo administration had not rigged the ballot to place rosy wording in the referendum that touted potential benefits of casinos without mentioning any of the costs. Polls showed voters were evenly divided over casinos, but support increased after voters were given the misleading language.

Gambling interests also raised $4 million to promote the measure largely through TV ads. Another $59 million has been spent by gambling interests since 2005 on lobbying and donations to lawmakers, including more than $1 million to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (See The New York Times report here.)

As a candidate, Cuomo never discussed casinos. But eight months into his term, he suddenly championed casinos and later cut a series of deals with Indian casino operators and racetrack operators in order to reduce opposition from gambling interests. He said the casinos could generate “$1 billion in economic activity” for the state but failed to hold any public hearings or conduct a cost-benefit analysis into more gambling. Cuomo’s $1 billion figure came from an interview a gambling industry lobbyist gave to a Albany business publication.

Cuomo also said the first four casinos would be built in upstate New York. This also helped to mute opposition in and around New York City, where polls showed more residents were opposed to casinos. But now that the measure has passed it will only be a matter of time before casinos are built in and around the city.

Cuomo said casinos would generate jobs and economic development for the state. However, the jobs that come from casinos do not outweigh the many costs that will come from having more residents gambling more often. (At several casinos in and around Philadelphia, customers come an average of three to five times a week.) More broadly, casinos do not generate new spending but merely divert it.

Studies show that casinos generate anywhere from 30 percent to 55 percent of their revenues from repeat and problem gamblers. Studies also show that where casinos locate there is an increase in social costs, including more crime, bankruptcy, divorce and suicide. One study found that for every $1 in casino revenue creates $3 in costs.

So Cuomo may have won the casino vote, but New York lost.

What the smart money says about casinos

November 4, 2013 11:34 am

In a hotly contested race like legalizing casinos in New York, it is worth noting what the leading newspaper editorial boards have to say about the issue.

The New York Times makes the most compelling case against casinos.  Interestingly, the New York Post agrees with The Times: It is not often those two papers are on the same page, which is telling. This must be a bad idea on all fronts.

A number of other leading newspapers urge residents to vote no against casinos, including The Albany Times Union, The Syracuse Post-Dispatch and The Watertown Daily Times. Each paper makes a thoughtful and well-reasoned case against casinos.

What is even more compelling are the papers in support of casinos. Those editorials struggle to make the case for casinos and lack common sense and logic. In doing so, the editorials actually underscore why commercial casinos would be bad for the state.

The New York Daily News said casinos are a lousy way for government to raise money and will lead to more addiction, but vote yes anyway. Uh?

The Poughkeepsie Journal called the casino ballot language “one-sided” and said the state played “fast and loose with this issue,” while failing to mention the “legitimate concerns.” Keep in mind, this is an editorial in support of casinos.

Newsday actually praised Cuomo’s crass politics and secret deal-making. But then added this gem as part of its, ah, casino support: “It’s not that there isn’t plenty to oppose in both the gambling expansion and the way it’s been handled. The casinos may not provide as much upstate revitalization as hoped. They would inevitably increase the number of problem gamblers where they are located.”

With casino supporters like this, who needs an informed opposition?

New York Post: No to Casinos

October 29, 2013 4:12 pm

It is rare the editorial boards at The New York Times and The New York Post agree on anything, let alone a major public policy issue. But within the past few days, both the Times and Post have come out against changing the state constitution to legalize casinos in New York.

The Post editorial board said the proposal to change the state constitution to allow casinos was a “bad bet for many reasons.” The Post pointed to the rigged language on the ballot that claims several dubious benefits without mentioning the costs. The Post rightly said casinos are a regressive tax on the poor and pointed to the lack of economic benefits from gambling.

“If the governor wants to revitalize New York, let’s not do it by taxing those who can least afford it. Let’s do it the old-fashioned way: by building an economy that encourages thrift, investment and enterprise,” The Post said. Read the full editorial here:

Meanwhile, The Times also urged voters to reject the casino measure that is on the Nov. 5 ballot. The Times cited many of the same reasons as the Post. Read the full editorial here:

The fact that both papers – with such differing political views on many issues – agree that casinos are bad for New York speaks volumes about how misguided the effort is to change the constitution in order to enable more residents to gamble.

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):

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:

The New York Times: No to casinos

October 25, 2013 9:17 am

The last great American newspaper explains why New York does not need more casinos.

In a fiercely-reasoned editorial, The New York Times urges residents to vote no in the Nov. 5 referendum seeking to change the state constitution to allow commercial casinos. Read the editorial here:

The same arguments can be made against the spread of casinos in other states. The Times cites a number of compelling reasons – backed by studies and the historical record – why governments should not be in the business of enabling casinos: Gambling is regressive. The tax bonanza is fleeting. Casinos hurt existing businesses. Home prices near casinos decrease.

The Times points to the failure of casinos in Atlantic City: “The percentage of people below the poverty line there has increased to 29.3 percent from 22.5 percent in four decades. The unemployment rate is at about 18 percent, and the crime rate is almost three times that of the surrounding county.”

The Times also points to the failure of Gov. Cuomo to make the case for more gambling: “Mr. Cuomo has not successfully made the case that casinos will provide long-term benefits.”

Casino issue heats up

September 25, 2013 10:17 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is confident the casino referendum will pass – despite the state’s lack of independent study, debate or public hearing. But not everyone thinks more gambling is a good idea. A number of thought leaders have chimed in with powerful pieces, sparked in part by the recent report titled “Why Casinos Matter” that was published by the Institute for American Values, which sponsors this blog.

New York Times columnist Michael Powell wrote a compelling column where he interviewed a gambler who thinks more casinos is a mistake. “It’s a losing deal, casinos,” electrician Stu Litwin told Powell. “I’ll be honest, I should have my head examined for coming here. You really don’t want the whole city doing this.”

Powell found Litwin at the Resort World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, which he said “looks like an airport departure lounge mated with a pinball machine.”  He also likened the Cuomo camp’s rosy wording of the casino referendum promising jobs, lower property taxes and school funding as “Leonid Brezhnev Triumphal Style.”

CNN contributor David Frum chimed in with a column titled “The Harm that Casinos Do.” Frum wrote: “The impact of casinos on local property values is “unambiguously” negative, according to the National Association of Realtors. Casinos do not revive local economies. They act as parasites upon them. Communities located within 10 miles of a casino exhibit double the rate of problem gambling. Unsurprisingly, such communities also suffer higher rates of home foreclosure and other forms of economic distress and domestic violence.”

IAV President David Blankenhorn and former Rochester Mayor William Johnson also wrote an op-ed in the Albany Times Union that argues how casinos contribute to the gap inequality. “While casinos do not create wealth, they redistribute it, overwhelmingly from the have-nots to the haves. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other casino advocates often use terms such as ‘destination gaming resorts’ to describe them, but the label is highly misleading. Anyone who has actually visited America’s regional casinos knows that they are quite different from Vegas-style resort casinos.”

Cuomo and other casino supporters have avoided public discussion on the well-documented economic and social ills that come with casinos. As such, many voters are not well informed about casinos. But many thought leaders who have taken the time to examine the issue understand that casinos do more harm than good.

NY rams through casino bill

July 1, 2013 8:52 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York lawmakers used an emergency provision to pass the casino bill that enabled them to dodge the required three days to review such measures, the Associated Press reported.

Of course, there was no emergency. It was just another sleazy maneuver used to ram through the casino bill in order to avoid public debate or scrutiny. From the start, the casino bill was crafted in the dark. Changes were made along the way after numerous closed-door meetings with lawmakers and lobbyists. And of course, after gambling interests spent millions of dollars on campaign contributions.

Cuomo had promised not use to the much-criticized emergency tactic that enabled lawmakers to avoid the required three-day waiting period. The provision is there to give lawmakers time to analyze measures before they vote. Instead, Cuomo and lawmakers decided to use the “message of necessity orders” because the session was coming to an end and they did not want to stay in Albany. (Maybe everyone needed a shower.)

Cuomo said the last-minute changes to the bill were minor and technical and did not change the substance of the measure. Critics didn’t buy that excuse.

“Regardless of the level of significance of the individual changes, the bills as finally approved by the Legislature were not on their desks for three days prior to final approval and are therefore unconstitutional, null and void.” said Robert Schulz, a resident who has sued governments more than 100 times to enforce what he considers violations of the state and U.S. constitutions.

In other words, in voting to amend the state Constitution to legalize casinos, Cuomo and lawmakers violated the Constitution. Then again when it comes lawmakers and gambling, this is pretty much business as usual.

Albany sells out to casino interests

June 24, 2013 11:33 am

Turns out, it only costs about $2 million to get Albany lawmakers to vote to change the state Constitution. That’s how much gambling interests spent in the run-up to a vote last week to legalize commercial casinos.

As expected, lawmakers voted to change the state Constitution in order to allow as many as Las Vegas-style casino in New York. The convoluted plan calls for four casinos located upstate initially and three casinos to be added later in and around New York City. Voters must first approve the casino referendum at the ballot box in November before it becomes law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the casino plan part of a larger effort to revitalize the economies of struggling upstate regions. He said the legislation was “about gaming, and gaming is about tourism, and tourism is about jobs.” Cuomo offered no numbers to support his economic claim. Instead, Cuomo staffers resorted to alleged threats to get some lawmakers to vote for the bill.

Nor did Cuomo present a cost-benefit analysis that would look at the true costs of adding casinos. Perhaps that is because casinos will do very little to boost tourism upstate. Nor will the casinos provide any ripple effect to the local economy. Yes, the casinos create some jobs and generate tax revenue for the state.

But studies show the casinos will also lead to increased personal bankruptcy, crime, divorce and suicide. The casinos do not generate new spending but instead strip wealth from the local economy. One study has found that casinos generate $3 in costs for every $1 they bring in. (No coincidence that measures to combat corruption and prohibit campaign contributions from gambling interests were rejected by Albany lawmakers.)

Lawmakers do not care about that. New York, like other states, was driven to enable the misguided gambling policy by the river of campaign money that has flowed into the coffers of lawmakers. Consider that Cuomo never even mentioned casinos when he was running for governor. But eight months later he made casinos a major initiative of his administration.

Meanwhile, gambling interests have given nearly $2 million to statewide campaign committees, candidates and parties, according to an analysis by the New York Public Interest Research Group. That may seem like a lot of money to some but it is peanuts to the casino interests. In fact, the average casino takes in $2 million in revenue every two days. Most of that money comes from the pockets of the elderly, minority and working-class residents of New York - the very citizens Cuomo and lawmakers are supposed to protect not harm.