Q and A on Predatory Gambling in New York

Kollwitz  Woman with Dead Child

Kollwitz Woman with Dead Child

A Dialogue on Predatory Gambling for New York State

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q You say that 1.4% of adults are gambling addicts and another 2.6% ,problem gamblers.  I accept  that this 4% are out of control,  are a drawdown  on  society.   Yet  4% is not a lot.  Why should the other 96%  be kept from doing something they can control ? 

 R Defeat of  the “casino amendment” in November would  not deprive that 96% of access to legalized predatory gambling.   New Yorkers, as the Governor said last year.
are surrounded by it.  There are thousands of Lottery outlets, more than a dozen “racinos” (which the Governor said in his May 9 2013 press conference are basically casinos) and five class III tribal casinos with table games staffed by humans.  Nearby  states are flush with casinos or about to build them.

Q  But many gamblers want full-fledged casinos.  That’s why people say parking lots at casinos in nearby states are full of cars and buses from NY.   The hidden costs those visitors rack up are externalized (“charged to”)  NY society,  yet all of the money left behind stays in other states  as casino profits  and  taxes on  gaming revenue.  If NYS is to get a piece of the action on its own residents and “own” tourists,   give us new casinos in-state.

R  If  new casinos in NYS could recapture 100% of the traffic now going out-of -state without creating new gambling addicts or problem gambler, NYS would have less net loss from gambling than now.  It  would  still not be near  break-even.  Worse, convenient casinos will create gambling addicts and problem gamblers.  The recapture solution to out- of-state travel  then becomes part of the problem.

Q You are a prohibitionist. 

R  Not really.  Opponents  of  the gambling amendment  are not trying in 2013 to close every gambling  joint in the state.  We just want to make access to casinos for NYS residents and visitors no easier than it is now. 

Q Come on!   You want to deny 100%  of  New Yorkers a benefit  because  4%  can’t take care of themselves.  That’s letting the tail wag the dog!

R  The dark side of convenience is the unavoidable creation of new addicts and problem gamblers.  How strong the effect is across all settings cannot be reliably stated.  Intuition says that a single casino set  in a metropolis previously casino-free will create more problem gamblers than a similar one new to a rural area in which there is already a casino 30 miles away.  Twice as many?  Five times?  Ten times? No one can say. 

Q  OK.  NYS would add some more gambling addicts; we already have 170,000,     What’s a few more?

Q  “Few”  may be thousands, and none of them “is an island entire of itself.*”  The evil of  predatory gambling is not just torment to the problem gamblers whom the cartel exploits  for high profit; it is the damage to innocent people who trust them – spouses and domestic partners, children, parents, siblings, other relatives,  neighbors, business associates,  financial institutions like banks, credit unions or insurance agencies.  For every problem gambler there are seventeen other parties affected, wrote Politzer et al ** , citing Lesieur.  They are never affected to the good.  Those who condone predatory gambling consider expendable — worthless — everyone in the circle of misery around a problem gambler. That is a lot of people in this state: millions.  A society cannot allow this and be just or even pretend to be.

*John Donne, Meditation 17 (1624)

** Politzer Robert M. et al.  The Epidemiologic Model and the Risk of Legalized Gambling: Where Are We Headed? Health Values (1992)  vol.  16 no. 2: 20-27.

Woman with Dead Child, etching by Kathe Kollwitz, is  owned by the National Gallery of Art.  This image is in the public domain.

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The Albany Gambling Diet

albanydiet  The Albany Gambling Diet

Thoughts on Healthier Eating

by

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. 

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CAGNY’s Message to Legislators on One Page

 

Goya: El Sueno de Razon

Goya: El Sueno de Razon

      When CAGNY members visit legislators in Albany on Feb 5, here is what we will say about the Governor’s proposal  to amend the state constitution (Article I sec 9 and allow up to seven new commercial casinos: 

     Half  the revenue of casinos and large lotteries is from pathological ( addicted) and problem gamblers.  They  seldom own what they drop.  It has usually been diverted from someone else (e.g. spouse) who has equal or better right to it (e.g. mortgage payment).  These are  “abused dollars.”  Some of the money lost by these gamblers comes from outright crime, a later recourse for many pathological gamblers beyond taking from intimates or dependents  who might not prosecute.

    Thus half the revenue government gets from gambling is passed to it from gamblers’ losses,  staked by deceitful diversion or outright thefts from someone other than the gambler.  The multiplier for “other”  is 8-fold.  For every pathological or problem gambler, 8 other people, often  children,  are deprived of something valuable, not limited to money.

    When government facilitates or sponsors gambling to balance the budget,  it exploits not only the dis-control of  some  gamblers but the miserable situation of their families and close associates.  For government to overlook  this  injury to persons —including children— around the gambler treats  them as expendable.

    Even if someone thinks gambling addicts deserve to live damaged lives or to self-end them, he or she cannot wish the same fate on the gambler’s near and once-dear.  More than dollars are abused.  Domestic violence, physical, and emotional injury are common in the circles of gambling addicts and problem gamblers.  Suicide harms, not one person, but many.

    Fear, distance, abstraction can make other humans expendable to the best of us.  The story should be different, however, when the people to be made expendable are not remote and when the people doing the expending are in our state government.  We who oppose the constitutional amendment  say “No  New Yorker is expendable.”  

                                               VOTE  NAY  ON SECOND PASSAGE

    The text of the amendment of Art I §9 that would go to referendum must be the same as S 6734.  Implementing language must be approved by the legislature, though who will draft it and when is not clear.  A vote for second passage gives no security to a legislator or to the voters at referendum on these key points, any or all of which could be changed in a later session:

  • Timetable of building the “no more than seven” casinos
  • Locations and size  Could a new casino double its gambling floorspace three years later?
  • “Home Rule” What level of social organization (e.g. village, town, county, state) will make decisions about same or different levels close by (e.g. village inside a town).  Who speaks, who votes?
  • Rate for property tax and for tax on casino income payable  to state and sub-state levels.
  • Funding for “prevention and treatment.”  

    The sleep of reason brings forth nightmares:  a worst case scenario could put five or six big casinos in or very near the Greater Metropolitan Area, leading to eighty thousand new gambling addicts  and 200,000 new problem gamblers.  Or, think of this:  Would it be socially just,  if all the town boards in a county but one voted against a casino,   to  put one in the lone holdout township? 

                                         VOTE  NAY  ON SECOND  PASSAGE

 

Albany and Art of Deception

Albany and Art of Deception: From the Land Where No Means Yes

by David Colavito

"Peering over the edge" Flickr CC

“Peering over the edge” Flickr CC

Question:  When can state government promote responsible policies without leveling with voters?

Answer:  It can’t.

Question:  Has Governor Cuomo leveled with New Yorkers about his proposal to amend the state constitution to permit casino gaming?

Answer: No

Beyond special interests and hidden agendas, it’s simple.  Public policy initiatives designed to mislead the public aren’t responsible, and when they’re promoted, hang on to your wallet, because you can be sure that same public will eventually be picking up the tab.

In his 2012 state of the state address, Governor Cuomo rolled out his economic development plan that featured, among other things, his proposal to amend the New York State constitution to permit casino gaming.  He implied that those who question whether we should be in the gaming business are the equivalent of delusional because, as he put it, New York is already in the gaming business.  He referred to horse racing and video lottery terminal locations throughout the state as bedrock justification for his assertion.  He waxed, perhaps not eloquently, about the benefits casino gaming would bring to the Empire state.  And he cited, as common-sense, the need to rethink how our state manages gaming, if it’s to stem losses of potential revenue flowing like water out of New York into neighboring casino-permissive states in what might be thought of as a casino siphon.  The Governor came as close to saying as one could without actually saying it: New Yorkers are fools if they don’t get with his program to legalize casino gaming in the Empire State.

And so it was that Mr. Cuomo chose to bury the lead, raising the same tired red flags proponents of similar proposals hope go unnoticed.  It was deeply disappointing for people who took seriously the commitments to transparency and disclosure he’d laid claim to throughout much of his political career.

 Casino gaming is fiction, because casino gambling isn’t a game.  It’s the antithesis of a game, because games aren’t reliant upon participants incurring personal and economic hardships, an immutable aspect of betting against the house.  Medical and law enforcement professionals have long acknowledged that gambling disorders are real and incur substantial costs for society, just as substance abuse and tobacco related diseases do, though you’d never know it from Mr. Cuomo.  And although federal and state governments have for decades derived substantial revenue through taxation on tobacco and alcohol products, they aren’t in the business of promoting either.  But this isn’t about ideological purity; it’s about Mr. Cuomo playing it straight with New York voters, the same ones he needs to ratify changes to the state constitution in order to have his way.  So it’s also about what paths he’ll travel to get his way.

Casino gambling epitomizes wagering against the house, where the house’s odds of winning ensure everyone else must eventually lose, and as every casino owner knows, that’s a very different paradigm than Saturday night card games among friends.   All this isn’t to suggest everyone entering a casino becomes addicted to gambling, anymore than it’s to suggest everyone consuming alcohol becomes an alcoholic.  What it’s saying and not just suggesting is trained professionals tell us gambling disorders are real, and they come with hefty costs to our communities that can greatly exceed benefits.  And if this was intended to be a scholarly work it would also cite documentation of the disproportionately high level of casino revenues obtained from people with serious gambling disorders, sick people in need of help not exploitation from state government.  It’s a predatory business model, because in a variety of ways it arguably cultivates those disorders to facilitate preying upon those so afflicted.  Sound familiar?  It should, at least for those of sufficient age to recall the earlier days of lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers, but with one important twist: the government was party to some of those smoking related lawsuits.   

So appreciating the first red flag raised by the governor is to appreciate gaming for what it is, his euphemism of choice intended to inoculate voters against making an informed decision.

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“Lottery for Education” Steals a Good Name

6007594833_b6983433f0rockhorse photo FlickrCC 6007594833_b6893433f0rockhorse.jpg 

The New York State Lottery generates revenue to government outside the tax stream that goes directly “to education.”  This special fund, however, is not as most people thought in 1966 it would be, to enhance “education” above subsistence level.  It’s more like a reserve called  every year.  Used thus, it frees for  other expense sectors (e.g. pensions, welfare) money from taxes put into the General Fund that would have gone to “education.”  This can be called “total budget fungibility.”   

Compare government-sponsored lottery to the unpopular revenue-booster  of  increase in conventional taxes:  it looks to the average tax-payer like finding money in the street.  It is not.  It is socially unjust in taking money disproportionately from the less affluent.   It is two or three-fold  more expensive when hidden quantifiable socioeconomic costs are factored in.  Big-time predatory gambling like NYSL also leaves in its path untold harm that cannot be quantified, including family breakup and suicide.   In 2013 we face the spectre that newly-legalized casinos will be hailed, like Lottery, as benefactors to “education” and therefore to NY residents.   They would  be wolves in sheep’s clothing.   Continue reading

Letter to Legislators about Proposed Amendment

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The letter below was written to be distributed to all NYS legislators on the morning before the Governor’s State of the State Message.  The three casinos “upstate”  he projected in the SOSM   we can see would create fewer gambling addicts than (say) five in the Metropolitan area.  This “phase I ” scenario, however, does not rule out a second phase with  four casinos south of “upstate.”   to compete with casinos in neighboring states.  Nothing is off the table.  The Governor’s discussion of the amendment  was a trial balloon..  The amendment is a terrible idea, but if it is to go  to referendum the Governor and his appointees should not be calling the shots.

 Dear Legislator:                                                                                                          

Even if new to the Legislature, you don’t need an alert or reminder to know that soon you will consider in committee or on the floor “second passage” of S06734.  Enacted on March 14, 2012, this was a proposal to amend Article 1, Sec. 9 of the NYS Constitution to allow “no more than seven” casinos to be built “as prescribed by the Legislature.”  If a like bill is passed by both chambers in 2013, the proposal to amend will be put to public referendum.

 Coalition Against Gambling in New York (CAGNY) believes this amendment would create tens of thousands of new addicted gamblers and problem gamblers.  The figures for this forecast can be seen and downloaded at    http://tinyurl.com/aas2tew The harm to each person so affected would be multiplied by eight or ten times as family, friends, and associates are inextricably caught up in the misery…. or have to flee it!

CAGNY observes  that the Governor, who urged this amendment early in 2012, has ignored the collateral damage from “recapturing,” by new in-state casinos, gamblers who have been going out of state.  In not acknowledging  this collateral damage, he says in effect that thousands of NYS residents are expendable.  Do you believe that too?

You will hear over and over that “the State needs the money.”  CAGNY does not deny that the State needs money.  We don’t deny, either,  that governments at times  lay out money putting  lives at risk—soldiers and first responders, for example.  We do hold that government should never plan a revenue-raising strategy that exploits illness and misery in its people !  Government  should never on purpose enable life-threatening addictions!

 We don’t know when the vote will be.  In the days to come, however, we will return to your door often with more handbills that show why a “no” on second passage is a vote for truly good government.  We’ll try to meet with you in person. We welcome your questions and your requests for detailed background.  Feel free to call 917-453-7371 or e-mail our Chairperson at sqs@columbia.edu.

Gov. Cuomo tips his hand on amendment for casinos

flickr-3882328030-original Venetian

Gov. Cuomo tipped his hand a little in SOS yesterday.  He  wants for now (1) no new casinos in NYC (2) three  “upstate,” another four in future (3) locations and scale to be decided by a Gam[bl]ing Commission he will appoint.  I thought the first-passage bill in 2012 said “as prescribed by the legislature,” which seems cut out of the deal.  If the amendment proposal goes to referendum, how much devil will be in the details?

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Opposing the amendment is not “prohibitionist.” It is protective.

New_York_City

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:

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Is This An Acceptable Way to Govern?

 

new-york-hi

 

 

 

Editor’s note: This short essay by Joel Rose, Founder and Chairperson of CAGNY, was  distributed to members of the press in Albany May 29, 2012 and to legislators visited  by CAGNY members May 29-30.  It  reviews the  abuse of due process by which the legislature has handled certain bills related to gambling.  The March 14,  2012 vote for “first passage”  is a case in point. 

In his state of the state message this year, Governor Cuomo noted that “It’s time we confronted reality. It’s not a question of whether we should have gaming in New York — the fact is we already do.” He went on to urge a constitutional amendment so that “we can do gaming right,” whatever that means. Notice that gambling promoters always use the term gaming rather than gambling to try to create the impression that they are promoting something innocuous.

So the merits of the pro-gambling case come down to this: We’ve already used every trick in the book to get around the law in order to have gambling in this state. So now, let’s just take the gloves off and remove any remaining restrictions on casino gambling.

We note that New York been so successful in finding ways to allow gambling that according to its own study, New York already leads the nation in annual revenue from gambling. But no amount of gambling will ever be enough. If casinos are allowed, the argument will then turn to sports betting and Internet gambling.

Governor Cuomo and Speaker Silver have already let it be known that they do not want any casinos in Manhattan. They just want access to the revenue to be derived by putting them everywhere else in the state. If this activity would be beneficial for upstate, why not enjoy its benefits everywhere in the state?

So the Legislature, performing what passes for due diligence in this state, passed this amendment in the middle of the night. There were no hearings, so opponents were never able to testify. In fact, there was no debate. Article III, Section 14 of the Constitution specifies that every bill be held for final passage for three legislative days so that legislators may have time to read it and understand its ramifications, unless the Governor issues a “message of necessity,” indicating the reasons why it is necessary to waive the three-day requirement. Of course, governors routinely issue such messages, and legislatures routinely meekly accept them. And that was done in this case.

Now here we have a bill which could be passed anytime during this legislative session, with final passage not possible before January 2013. How could it possibly have been “necessary” to vote on it right away?

The final indignity to good legislative process: in the Senate, the Democrats, angered by the extreme gerrymandering of the majority redistricting plan, walked out, all except for four “independent” Democrats who generally vote with the Republicans, and were absent for all the votes taken that night. Thus, this important vote on casino gambling was taken with only 36 of the 60 Senators present.

So our question to our fellow citizens, and particularly to our legislators, is this: Is this an acceptable way to govern?

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, Joel Rose, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of any or all other members of CAGNY.