Opinion Editorial on Casino Gambling

Post Star

Weigh casino options carefully for racino

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A decade ago, when the state first proposed putting video slot machines at harness tracks to prop up the struggling harness racing industry, many said it was the first step on a slippery slope to full-scale casino gambling.

Well, wax your toboggan, grab the rope and hold on tight.

It took 10 years, a dismal economy, and a push from the expansion of casino gambling in neighboring states, but it's finally here. Earlier this month, the New York Gaming Association made an appeal to a joint meeting of the state Senate's Judiciary and Racing and Wagering committees to add table games to its offering of slot machines at the state's harness-racing tracks. In a sense, it would turn the ray-cinos into cah-cinos, and essentially legalize casino gambling across the state.

As we've said, legalizing casino gambling in New York isn't necessarily a terrible idea.

It has the potential to create hundreds of jobs in economically depressed areas and to boost the year-round tourist economies of places like Lake George and the Adirondacks.

It also would be a way to combat tourist-drain to other states. The Gambling Association claims the state loses between $3.1 billion and $5 billion in potential revenue each year to New Yorkers going out of the state to gamble. Neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey already have casinos that are popular with New Yorkers. On Wednesday, Massachusetts lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a proposal to license three new casinos and one new slot operation.

And on Monday, developers in Pennsylvania announced they were moving full-speed-ahead with a fourth regional casino in Valley Forge.

Despite the temptation of jobs and the threat of watching tourist dollars fly out of the state, New York officials should proceed with caution on allowing slot venues like Saratoga to take their natural course into full-scale casinos.

First off, we have to decide whether the current locations of racinos are really the best places for casinos. The slot machines were placed at harness tracks only because that's where the gambling advocates could get their foot in the door. Harness tracks are not necessarily located in the best places to capitalize on tourism, even in Saratoga.

A better location for a casino might be in the heart of an existing tourist area, like downtown Saratoga Springs, Lake George or Lake Placid, where tourists would have more places to spend their money outside the casino. Before permitting full-scale casino gambling, state officials need to come up with a plan for locating new casinos in places where they can best capitalize on the opportunity.

Secondly, gambling advocates see the introduction of table games as a natural progression from slots. But while there might be some overlap in the crowd, the people who play the slots are not necessarily the ones who are going to play table games. Once tables are introduced, the community could see a whole new type of gambler coming in - potentially bringing with them a whole new set of problems.

There are a number of other questions that will have to be answered before this should be allowed to go forward.

How much money will the state get from the casino revenues, and where will it be applied? Will it be targeted for education and the equine industry, as it is now, or will it just go into the state's general fund to encourage more reckless state spending?

Will host communities be guaranteed compensation for the extra costs they incur for extra policing, wear-and-tear on infrastructure, and quality-of-life issues? Saratoga Springs has been burned already by the state taking back promised VLT revenue sharing.

Will there be limits on the amount that people can bet at the tables at one time? Blackjack players at a table with a $5 limit are far different than those who play at the $1,000 table.

Will large construction projects be part of the expansion of the racinos? Most casinos have large hotels and parking garages attached to them. Are racino communities suited for or prepared for that kind of development?

No one wants the state to lose out on potential revenue, nor does anyone want to see tourist dollars flow out of the state. But the proposal to expand racinos to include full-scale casino gambling comes with a lot of potential pitfalls and a lot of unanswered questions.

Before they take us down the next slippery slope, state leaders need to give this proposal a lot more thought, consider all the options, and make sure that it's really what's best for New York in the long-run.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant.



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