With the approval earlier this month of a state constitutional amendment authorizing up to seven more casinos, New York must act swiftly to prepare for the inevitable spike in problem gambling and associated issues.
The good news is that the state appears to be doing that, but it will be critical to ensure that, with the billions of dollars the state will take in from gambling, it doesn’t shortcut dealing the consequences.
That work has begun, according to Jim Maney, executive director of the New York State Council on Problem Gambling. Maney says he is encouraged at the state’s attention to the issues involved. Only recently, he said, the state imposed penalties for underage gambling – a penalty that had never before existed in New York. It would penalize casinos that allow underage gambling in the same way that bars are for serving alcohol to minors.
But there is more that should happen. The state needs to develop a comprehensive plan for dealing with problem gambling, not a hit-or-miss array of programs. That plan should focus not just on casinos, but on all forms of gambling, including the state’s lottery offerings, which are becoming ever more prevalent. The effort needs to include public awareness campaigns and education for everyone from students to seniors.
That all will cost money, but the state will soon be rolling in it, according to backers of the new casinos. New York promised the moon and the stars to voters when it asked their permission to allow gambling in the state.
Indeed, the language of the proposal was about as cheesy as it could have been, asking voters if they liked the idea of “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes.” It forgot to mention mortgage foreclosures, thievery, jail and joblessness.
Now the state must rectify that oversight. It needs to save some of that celestial dust to help the people who will fall prey to the false lure of easy money.
This is a fundamental moral issue. The state is formally launching a project whose strategy is to provide free alcohol to players, point them toward gambling machines and count the money coming in.
In advocating for passage, state officials acknowledged the need for treatment options. The risk is that they are underestimating the need. They must not.