Promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and lowering property taxes. Who could be against that?
That seems to be the thinking behind the governor’s revisions to the wording of a statewide referendum to allow seven casinos on the ballot this November. Usually the wording in such proposals is dry and to the point. Gerald Benjamin, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz, told the AP the wording seemed “particularly heavily spun” but he doesn’t think “there’s anything illegal about it.”
“I was outraged but I wasn’t surprised,” said Susan Puretz, a member of the No Saugerties Casino executive committee. “I think it might backfire. It might say to the electorate– if it was such a good deal, why do they have to sell it in that way?”
The referendum reads:
“The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?”
In Saugerties, anti-casino sentiment is strong because of a large mobilization to stop a proposed Indian casino at Winston Farm about ten years ago. Though the group no longer meets regularly, many members transcended the not-in-my-backyard crowd and went on to become diehard anti-gambling activists.
While Saugerties isn’t talked about as a likely site for a new casino, Puretz believes that could change if the amendment passes. While most think if two casinos are sited in the Hudson Valley, one will be at the Nevele Resort in Ellenville and another in one of two Sullivan County locations, Puretz believes the Ellenville location will ultimately not be chosen because the roads (209 and 52) couldn’t handle the traffic and the resort would need extensive renovation. She doesn’t think two casinos would be built in Sullivan County, or on the other side of the river, so that leaves Saugerties. “Our Winston Farm has already been vetted for a casino,” she said. “It passed the muster for someone putting in a casino there.”
Stephen Q. Shafer, chair of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York and a Saugerties resident, doesn’t think that’s likely. “I don’t agree with my friends that it’s a prime location,” he said.
The reason? Local opposition. “I believe that the No Saugerties Casino Group was very, very effective at putting up a barrier to say Saugerties doesn’t want a casino,” said Shafer. “I don’t think anybody would try to come here to put one in.”
In addition to the Nevele, other possible plans include a Foxwoods casino in Liberty and moving the Monticello Raceway to the town of Thompson. All these projects have developers and multimillion-dollar plans behind them, awaiting the results of the November vote. The state plan would call for four casinos in three regions—the Hudson Valley, Capital District and Southern Tier. Since our region is closer to the big population areas, it’s thought it would be more likely to get two.
Shafer said if the amendment passes, the state would appoint a commission to decide where to build the first four casinos. That commission would need to consider local support.
A big selling point for expanding gambling in New York is it would prevent money leaving the state. But anti-casino activists say the costs to the communities are much higher than the benefit recouped by keeping gambling money here. “We know that research shows that when you build new casinos you put a lot of people in proximity to those casinos who weren’t before,” said Arnold Lieber, also a member of the No Saugerties Casino executive committee. This creates new problem gamblers who otherwise wouldn’t have the temptation. The results are an increase in crime, foreclosures and competition to local businesses.
The jobs at casinos are low-paying and high turnover, say opponents. As states expand gambling, more casinos are failing, so it can’t be assumed the state will benefit.