We can’t grow economy by opening more casinos

I am puzzled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s advocacy of casinos as an economic development strategy for upstate New York. Has the dispute with Native American tribes over reciprocal accusations of violations of the initial Indian Gaming Agreement so stirred his combative juices that his lust to win that battle confuses his thinking about the place of casinos in a healthy economy?

Quite apart from the merits of either party’s claims, any reasonable policy regarding the role of casinos in economic development must be disentangled from this dispute. State-tribe issues must be settled without the threat of an overkill of casino expansion. I hold no brief for the tribal position, but if the original agreement was reached in good faith, there must be a way to either honor or adjust it to meet all just claims.

The governor’s proposal to multiply casinos across the state is sheer nonsense. In a market in which we are surrounded by gambling venues, more casinos will not attract out-of-state revenue, but will simply suck cash from the pockets of local residents. Gambling creates other problems for host communities in the form of bankruptcies, embezzlement cases, suicides and broken homes traced to addiction. But the opportunity costs are even higher. Does the governor believe that productive enterprises essential to economic growth can be attracted to a casino playground? Will the state’s investments in higher education be well-utilized in areas saturated with gambling venues? Finally, though casinos are touted as promoting other investments, a look at Atlantic City and Niagara Falls reveals casinos surrounded by empty blocks. The costs outweigh the gains. Casinos are neither a quick nor an enduring fix. If we want to grow our economy, we have to do it with sustainable enterprises.

Douglas R. Bunker