New York State is Addicted

Despair

New York State is addicted to revenues from gambling.  This is not just a figure of speech. Below are hallmarks obvious in the state’s behavior over the 47 years since its Constitution was amended to allow a lottery with periodic drawings and paper tickets.  In November another amendment, to permit “up to seven” casinos, will be on the ballot statewide. Intervention is needed.

  • craving
  • upping the dose
  • seeking short-term rewards e.g. “aid to education” without an uptick in personal or business tax rates.
  • discounting adverse effects  Problem gambling in New York drains from society  more than 3.5 billion dollars a year in quantifiable socio-economic costs like judicial administration, lowered productivity, and abused dollars.  This amount excludes suicide, proceeds of crime and psychosocial harm to the dozen or so individuals who are betrayed by every problem gambler in “the chase.”  No state official ever acknowledges the size of this problem.  The econometrics are in Gambling in America (Cambridge University Press, 2004) by Earl L. Grinols, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Baylor.
  • denying long term liabilities (e.g. spectre of fiscal flop with saturation, need for bailout à la NJ or DE, future inroads by internet gambling)
  • scoffing at the diagnosis “There’s nothing wrong with me!”
  • dismissing prospects of recovery  
  • cheating (e.g. allowing as if they are video lottery terminals (VLTs) hybrid electronic table games with outcomes not under the control of Lottery’s central processing unit.  See New York Daily News May 5 and 12, 2013. Another more recent example: rewriting the text of the amendment   to be on November ballot to make it an advertisement for a yes vote and boosting the proposal from the sixth slot where it belongs by date of passage into the “number one” slot.
  • deceiving e.g. pretending  increased regional cash throughput is “economic development”  Another example: saying that government regulation of commercial casinos will prevent the creation and exploitation of problem gamblers. In fact, government wants tough regulation to protect itself from being cheated, not to end problem gambling.   Half of casino revenues flow from the 4% of adults who are problem gamblers.  The casino owners don’t want to stop mining this mother lode, nor would tax-collectors like a 50% drop in revenues to the state. Even the most credulous person will realize that “regulation” in this situation is  programmed to fall far short of stated intentions.
  • scheming and manipulating  item, conceding money due to the state, localities and private citizens to deflect Indian opposition to potential competitors; item, promising a piece of commercial casino revenues not to “education” nor to “local property tax relief” but to horse-breeding and tracks if legalized casinos “cannibalize” racino gambling
  • conniving “If a law is in your way, get rid of it.”
  • dealing in a desperate and dishonorable way to keep “the connection.”  The Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 authorized additional video gaming establishments under Lottery if the casino amendment does not pass.  A spokesperson for the Governor (see Wall Street Journal June 15) offered ball-park figures: three to four “upstate” facilities with up to 5000 machines each.  This would more than double the state’s current battery.  The same bill enacted, regardless of the amendment’s outcome, additional VLT facilities “downstate.” Curious, for a bill denoted “Upstate.”

New York State is not addicted in the sense that its whole government is preoccupied each day with raising revenue from gambling. Nor is a large proportion of total revenue to the state from that source.  It’s less than 3%. That the state is a high-functioning addict still able to multi-task does not excuse its being addicted nor give assurance that its dependence will not get worse.

New York is not alone.  Many states and Canadian provinces are addicted too.  All show typical denial. Nowhere but in NY, however, do voters statewide have the chance in 2013 to call the addiction just that and say “Let’s start to ‘Recover New York.’”

Most people, even if they have never been in one, know what an intervention is, how it can launch recovery before catastrophe has struck.   New York needs an intervention now. Rejecting the proposed amendment at the General Election is a good start. Sad to say that’s all it can be.  The intervenors have no leverage here. The addict has a big stash locked in the garage and no intention of handing it over or entering treatment.

I personally regret NYS has the “casino referendum” because opponents may be outspent >1000 to 1 as is happening in Massachusetts and the public bamboozled.  Now that the Governor and his legislature have brought us the referendum, though, we can and must use it to confront our government, challenge it to lead recovery from gambling addiction the way it leads on recovery from natural disaster,

Photo image “Despair” from flickr creative commons 3503412461_815c19b748

Opinions in this piece are those of the writer, Stephen Shafer,  and do not necessarily reflect the views of any or all other members of CAGNY.  Permission to reproduce in whole or part is hereby granted as long as the permalink above is cited.

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