Photo by Alain Maury, found through Creative Commons
On January 2, 2013 I told a friend about the petition started recently by A.K. France, Vice-Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York (CAGNY), against the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow < 8 new commercial casinos in NYS. I sent the link by http://tinyurl.com/cj2v5bj. It was disappointing to get the following response by e-mail:
On reflection, I will pass and not be signing this petition. I put gambling in the same category as booze…and some people abuse alcohol, but I am not in favor or prohibition. Thus I find I am with Gov. Cuomo on this issue, despite your good letter and fine arguments. Sincerely _____ ”
My friend’s reply brought out two misconceptions about the proposed amendment (1) that those who oppose it are all “prohibitionists” who don’t believe in free choice and (2) that government’s role in legalized gambling is just like its role in regulating alcohol. We need to counter these wrong ideas wherever we find them. My reply below deals just with the proposed amendment, only one head of the hydra of predatory gambling. I speak only for myself here. My views do not necessariy reflect those of all members of CAGNY. Stephen Q. Shafer MD MA MPH
“Hi ____, Two points to make
(1) the petition is not asking actually to prohibit gambling in New York; rather, to prevent expansion. We already have > 25,000 slot machines in the state and a lottery that brings in more income from gambling to the state than any other state. We have at least five sort-of-full-fledged casinos operated by Indian entities (although two of those are not legal in not being on sovereign land that is now eligible for gambling operations). Our state has nine “racinos” run by the Lottery, some with thousands of slot machines.
(2) The government of New York State gets some income from the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, both of which it regulates. It considers them legal but with health hazards that rise the more an individual uses them. Like gambling, alcohol often hurts and can devastate the abuser’s families and friends. BUT the government in New York State does not spend millions on TV and poster ads encouraging people to drink more or smoke more. In fact, it spends modest sums discouraging those practices. Even in states where the State runs liquor stores, Government does not publicly advocate drinking more. It may let the makers advertise, but it does not announce in its own name “Your life could get so much better if you drink more alcohol! Hurry to the State-run liquor store!”
The NY state government, however, spends scores of millions of dollars encouraging people to play the lottery (which includes tickets, “games” like Quick-Draw and slots). The Governor declared in the 2012 State of the State message that we should have new commercial casinos because they will bring money to Albany’s coffers [This money is nominally for “education,” but you and I know that revenue dollars are fungible.]
In effect, state leaders behave as if “legalized” gambling is so much less harmful than alcohol that many forms should be fostered by the state and some forms (e.g. lottery) actually sponsored. If you agree with that, you certainly should not sign the petition.
On the other hand, if you can see that this constitutional amendment issue is not about “prohibition” like the Volstead Act, I’d be glad to give you more background that might make you reconsider. Thank you for making the effort of explaining your decision to me; I don’t expect it was easy to do.