May 12, 2013

Editorial: Time to discuss gambling issue


— The issue of expanding gambling enterprises in New York state has fairly quietly taken some turns lately, but numbers continue to indicate the idea promises to be lucrative if it ever gets off the ground.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been advocating additional casinos in the state for some time. In that, he differs from his father, Mario, who was governor from 1983 through 1994. Mario believed the state taking money from gambling only capitalized on the private hell endured by those with addiction to the pastime.

Andrew is more libertarian on the matter, and his stand makes more sense to us. After all, you can’t legislate against every possible misfortune suffered by every individual. Smoking, drinking and even provocative art each has elements that could harm certain individuals, but they have not been and will not be banned by New York or any other state.

And you shouldn’t necessarily punish all for the weaknesses of a few. Gambling revenue nationally continues to rise, irrespective of the economic climate. Last year, while all of America continued to struggle through a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, gambling revenue rose 4.8 percent — $37.5 billion — over 2011.

In New York, the first quarter of this year, gambling revenues rose more than 5 percent to $317 million, with $220 million going directly to education at a time when school districts are laying off teachers and cutting programs because funds are insufficient to support them.

Cuomo has proposed legislation to create seven additional casinos statewide, with three upstate — and not in western New York, it has been widely reported. That would represent additional education revenue for the state, as well as sales-tax bonanzas for the communities eventually chosen to host the establishments. Essex County has already asked to be considered, if more casinos are allowed, and the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the idea for their area.

The legislation must be passed in two consecutive sessions of the State Legislature, signed by the governor and then approved in a statewide referendum.

Cuomo has hinted that he won’t suggest the referendum be held this fall, presumably because he senses enough opposition to the plan to sink it. That would put off a public vote until the fall of 2014.

Meanwhile, though, the numbers seem to indicate that New Yorkers would profit substantially from passage.

The State Gaming Commission, the State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the State Council of Problem Gambling have formed an alliance to address potential trouble areas and actual ones if and when they surface.

The long and the short of it is that it’s time for a more thorough airing of expanded gambling — the benefits and the pitfalls. This important decision must not be left to myths, personal biases and false expectations.

New Yorkers need to be escorted into serious discussions of this issue with their eyes wide open.