The Albany Gambling Diet

albanydiet  The Albany Gambling Diet

Thoughts on Healthier Eating


David Colavito




     When you consider how injurious the socioeconomic consequences of state-sponsored gambling are, compared to its benefits, you have to ask why Governor Cuomo is promoting the expansion of casino gambling, let alone as economic development.  Sure, “gambling is already here” and “New York needs jobs” – neither is in dispute.  And used as they are to promote the Governor’s plan, they’re certainly appealing.  That’s the sweet side of half-truths many of us prefer to our vegetables.  But if Albany isn’t serving a balanced meal, it’s in our interests to understand why.  I’m suggesting it’s a failure of imagination. 

    The thesis has been with me for some time and came into sharper focus recently while reading False Idyll, an essay by J.B. MacKinnon.  Dealing with an unrelated topic, MacKinnon’s words struck me as eerily apropos to the social injustice inherent to the casino economy – “…  the way you see the world determines much about the world you are willing to live in …“ 

    And because I choose to be generous in spirit, I choose to believe Governor Cuomo’s promotion of the casino economy is rooted more in how he sees the world rather than in the belief he can make it better.  It’s an unfortunate conclusion, considering what life would still be like if others before him had constrained their own imaginations when confronted with the same choice on important public policy matters: emancipation and suffrage to name just two.

    And though you might argue Mr. Cuomo’s recent policy commitments to gun control and gay marriage render my thesis flawed, I’d respond by saying perhaps you’re correct, but unlike for example integration in the south, I don’t think either would have occurred without strong political winds blowing at Mr. Cuomo’s back.  Regardless, what really matters is the facts of the casino economy, their implications for social injustice, and Mr. Cuomo’s refusal to acknowledge either in his pursuit to fill state coffers.  All of which is also to say, his fixation on the gambling economy is apt subject material for an as-yet conceived book to be titled after MacKinnon’s essay.

    So, what might we imagine if enough people in Albany saw the world more through the lens of what it could be rather than the way it is?   Given that the majority of casino gambling revenue dollars come from the minority of gamblers with serious gambling disorders, would lawmakers continue to endorse expanding that predatory business model to increase state revenues?  And given the well-established relationship that increased opportunity to gamble produces more people with serious gambling disorders, would they continue promoting state policies that cultivate making people sick to balance budgets?  Or, might they instead work to formulate policies that mitigate the interstate impacts of gambling so often used to conscript state residents in a race-to-the-bottom casino economy?  I think we know what they’d choose.  And there’s also recent precedence for pursing equally important objectives.  Consider, for example, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Regardless of where you come down on the 2nd amendment debate, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t just believe in the need for federal gun policies that don’t undermine those of states; he’s a fierce advocate for them in Washington.

    Still shooting for the stars you say?  How about then just punting for the moon?  Albany could acknowledge a false premise it uses to pursue expanding the failed policy of state-sponsored gambling, though I suspect it isn’t spoken aloud there often.  It’s the keystone for the arch of my thesis – “we’re desperate; what else can we do if we don’t promote gambling?”

    The answer is, plenty. 

     To begin with, according to public records, last year NYS spent $86 million to advertise the New York Lottery.  It’s fair to ask then, whether that’s money well spent?  We’ll return to this question after first considering Governor Cuomo’s crown jewel for economic development, the ten Regional Economic Development Councils (Regional Councils) and the funding available to them through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA).

     To be fair, Governor Cuomo deserves credit for taking less of a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development; the Regional Councils are tasked with deciding what’s best for their respective regions.  And according to, 2012 Available CFA Resources, the “CFA has been designed to give economic development project applicants expedited and streamlined access to a combined pool of grant funds and tax credits from dozens of existing programs.”  CFA funding totaled about $750 million from a range of state agencies and authorities. The Regional Councils compete for portions of that funding allocated to ten general categories, which for the entire state in 2012 were:

     Direct Assistance to Businesses, up to $247 million; Community Development, up to $61.2 million; Agricultural Economic Development, up to $3 million; Waterfront Revitalization, up to $16 million; Environmental Improvements, up to $3 million; Empire State Development, up to $ 1 million; Energy Improvements, up to $50 million; Sustainability, up to $12 million; Workforce Development, up to $5 million; Low-Cost Financing, up to $350 million.

     So, returning to the question of whether money spent to advertise the Lottery is money well spent, you can see how $86 million compares with the general priorities of resources through the CFA.  It doesn’t just exceed the entire allocation for Community Development, or Energy Improvement, or Sustainability, or every other category other than Direct Assistance to Businesses and Low Cost Financing, it exceeds the allocation for seven of the ten categories combined – just to advertise the Lottery.

     Did I mention something about, the way we see the world determines much about the world we’re willing to live in?

     Sure, some will argue I’m making a false comparison, because advertising dollars for the Lottery come from Lottery proceeds (rather, e.g., than being raided from the general fund).  Fair enough.  But to be fair, we need to avoid cherry-picking and should bring into sharper focus other “contributions” from state-sponsored gambling generally, contributions surely to be exacerbated if the Governor’s casino plan comes to fruition.  I’m not talking about Lottery “funding” for education, because that’s fraught with accounting gimmicks.  I’m talking about some of the expert testimony presented last December at the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Alcohol and Drug abuse: the state agency estimate of nearly 1 million New Yorkers already afflicted with gambling disorders, yet just 5,000 receiving some form of treatment; 40 of 62 counties lacking any state treatment program; just $2.1 million in state funding to address gambling disorders; and not a single state prevention program, all while Albany continues as a preeminent cheerleader for state-sponsored gambling.

     So J.B. MacKinnon is surely correct, but the bridge I’ve built between his words and my thesis, hard as I try, strains to hold up.  Generous as I chose to be, a failure in imagination won’t account for Albany turning a blind eye to a public health problem cultivated through its promotion, and its lack of imagination will never excuse its refusal to assume that responsibility.

Opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, David Colavito, and do not necessarily reflect those of all members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York.  Permission to reproduce this post in whole or part is granted as long as the source is cited using the permalink above.     photo by David Colavito.



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