Albany and Art of Deception: From the Land Where No Means Yes
by David Colavito
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?
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.