Cuomo’s plan calls for the immediate construction of four upstate casinos: two in the Catskills, one in the Capital Region and one in the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border. After seven years three more would be built, with New York City on the table as a possible locale. But despite the governor’s enthusiasm, some experts aren’t so optimistic.
“The days of ‘build it and they will come’ are over,” said Alan Woinski, who blogs about the gambling industry for Gaming USA Corp. “With how many casinos there are around the United States now … look at Ohio—they have four casinos and seven racetracks, and they’re all underperforming because they’re surrounded by states with other casinos.”
Woinski said that the competition from casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut could mean that only local gamblers would be interested in a casino in the Catskills. The success of the Resorts World Casino in Queens, which opened in 2011 with slot machines and electronic table games, has occurred simultaneously with plummeting revenues in Atlantic City. And New York is already home to five full-scale tribal casinos upstate.
“This is why I call it a zero-sum game overall,” Woinski said. “We’ve reached a point where you can’t open another casino and expect to grow the entire market, so you’re basically stealing from others. And if you destroy another casino, how successful are you, really?”
Chad Cotti, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin’s Oshkosh College of Business who has studied the effects of gambling on local economies around the country, said that his research shows casinos providing an immediate increase in jobs, but minimal spillover into other industries
“The casinos themselves are largely self-contained, so there tends not to be a meaningful effect that propels other industries or other jobs outside of the casino,” Cotti said. “In an urban area, the effect that a casino has on overall employment is negligible. But [where] you do see a boost is in rural counties.”
A concern omitted from this article is the potential for an increase in gambling addictions, which can cause financial ruin for middle and low income families and burden state governments with costly treatment programs. As The New York Daily News explains:
Notwithstanding benefits for education and employment, gambling’s proliferation will inherently spread the addiction—at rates some experts predict will devastate millions of Americans. “All this government backing makes gambling sound harmless,” says [Timothy Fong, professor of psychiatry at the University of California—Los Angeles and co-director of the school’s gambling addiction program], “but there is a dark side that many state governments are downplaying.”
When politicians champion gambling legalization, [Sam Skolnik, author of “High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction”] says citizens don’t typically hear about the programs that will need to be created to offer education and treatment for gambling addiction. “Some states are setting aside money for these programs. By laying out these programs, in essence, they’re conceding they’re creating new groups of addicts in their community,” Skolnik says.
I’m not sure if the broader question of whether casinos ultimately benefit or harm local economies is easily answered but it seems clear that casinos come with more than a few strings attached. Of all possible solutions for upstate New York’s economic woes, why has Cuomo prioritized building casinos? If he is willing to legalize a “vice” in the interest of creating jobs, why not legalize marijuana and revitalize some of the struggling small farms throughout the state? According to Time
, California nets $14 billion in annual marijuana sales
and the legalization of medical marijuana in other states has caused dispensaries to spring up “in hundreds of towns and cities
.” New York, with its enormous urban population and multitude of upstate farms, seems an ideal place to start a profitable marijuana industry. So, get on it, Cuomo.