August 6, 2013

Editorial: Voters hold gaming decision


---- — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is putting the controversial issue of expanded gambling outlets in New York state exactly where it belongs: into the hands of the voters.

He has called for a controversial amendment on this November’s ballot to allow for as many as seven new casinos in the state, four in the next seven years. He emphasized that the issue is not whether to introduce gambling in the state, as it is already here.

“It’s not really a question of gaming or not gaming,” Cuomo said. “We have gaming. Whether we like it or not, we’re there.”

The casinos already in place are run by Native American tribes — five throughout the state. In our area, the Mohawks operate the Akwesasne Casino near Malone. The state also oversees nine racetracks with electronic gambling, called racinos.

The intent of opening any new establishments would be to avoid competition for or with those casinos already in place. New York City and its suburbs would also be exempt from consideration. Thus, the North Country is not one of the targeted areas, although Essex County had already asked to be considered. Presumably, any casinos to be opened — if the voters consent to the idea — would be in the Albany area, the Southern Tier and the Catskills.

An Albany-area casino could be placed in Saratoga, although one of the racinos is at Saratoga Harness Track now.

Cuomo said that approving the referendum would allow the state to better manage gambling and take full advantage of the tourist opportunities it presents. The referendum is “about gaming,” he was quoted as saying. “Gaming is about tourism. Tourism is about jobs.”

An agreement between Cuomo and legislative leaders will allow four new racinos to be built, even if the referendum on new casinos is rejected. Cuomo told the Daily News that that agreement is not aimed at circumventing the will of the voters but at keeping gamblers inside New York instead of going out of state for their activity.

Either way, racinos and their electronic gambling machines are not casinos, and voters will be wise to listen carefully to all discussions of the issue and to keep a critical ear open in all debates.

It is an important move for the state. Depending on how you feel about gambling, the vote represents either an opportunity to cash in on a great tourist draw or a liability in promoting greater dependence on an enterprise that has been historically fraught with moral and criminal implications.

The Akwesasne experience has reportedly been largely positive. Gov. Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, felt gambling too often led to personal and family turmoil that was not worth the revenue gains.

Andrew obviously feels differently. We hope voters approach this issue with open minds — and minds that are educated on the subject.