In 2013, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed to amend the State Constitution and state laws to allow four Vegas-style casinos to open on non-Indian lands in upstate New York. According to the Governor, new casinos were a key mechanism for stimulating upstate economic growth. Unfortunately, elected officials and voters followed the Governor’s lead. Last week, the fourth (and largest) casino to be licensed since 2013 opened its doors. Gov. Cuomo’s cynical vision has now become a reality.
On February 8, 2018, Resorts World Catskills held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its $1.2 billion facility in Thompson, New York. Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul attended, as did pro-gambling legislators like Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope) and Asm. Gary Pretlow (D-Mt. Vernon). Gov. Cuomo addressed the event via video message, stating that “‘[this] is a great moment in the rebirth of the region.’” Lt. Gov. Hochul lauded the “‘millions in revenue’” that the casino would bring to the Catskills, and added that the facility would “‘boost the region and benefit the entire State.’” The Hudson Valley News Network reported that “Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, a beneficiary of the largest stockholder of the parent of Resorts World Catskills, had the honor of cutting the ribbon,” and that the event “concluded with a ceremonial Lion Dance performance to bring continued good fortune to the property.”
Casino gambling expansion in upstate New York continues to be a bad idea from a business perspective. A recent report from Moody’s Investor Services contends that “[u]pstate New York’s gambling market is saturated to the point that new casinos continue to ‘cannibalize’ revenues and customers from existing ones.” However, that isn’t the main problem with New York’s new casinos. Neither is the tendency of casinos to lure customers away from smaller nearby dining establishments. The main problem with New York’s new casinos is that they are sordid schemes by governments and wealthy casino moguls to enrich themselves by enticing taxpayers into unwise and addictive behavior. Gambling addiction has ruined countless lives and destroyed many families. Politicians should not yoke the future of upstate communities to these predatory establishments, and politicians certainly should not pretend that doing so is a path to prosperity. Most of all, Albany pols should not make matters worse by licensing new casinos in the New York City area, legalizing online poker, or allowing sports betting.