Considering that it’s a state issue, our contingent of state legislators has been remarkably reticent on the hot-button subject of casino gambling.
State senator John Bonacic, though frequently described as a supporter, has, like his colleagues, generally sidestepped the casino issue. “The governor is driving this bus,” he told a Kingston breakfast audience a few months ago.
If any of the other six state legislators representing Ulster have a position, it hasn’t been shouted from any rooftops. Most will say only that they voted for the referendum “to give the people a voice.”
Voters should be darkly suspicious of any proposition where the people to be advantaged deal most of the cards. The wording on the proposal sounds like something the chamber of commerce might have put out. Gambling, it claims, will support schools, lower taxes and encourage economic development — by which they mean something beyond construction of the gambling facility itself. For a real-life refutation, I refer readers to Atlantic City.
As the day of reckoning rapidly approaches, couch potatoes should brace themselves for the millions of dollars of slick TV advertising about to descend upon them. We’ll see multiple images of beautiful, happy young people throwing their winnings into the air at glitzy casinos. The few times I’ve been to a casino all I saw was old ladies pumping nickels into slot machines. Ads of muscle-bound hardhats throwing dirt around new construction sites will abound, as will images of teachers at blackboards with attentive kids in the foreground.
Most annoying to me are those Nevele Now signs springing up at intersections among pleas to vote for Peter, Paul or Mary. The Madison Avenue types behind this ad campaign probably aren’t aware that Nevele (that long-dormant resort south of Ellenville) is actually eleven spelled backwards for the group of local businessmen who invested in the enterprise after World War II. The road signs are aimed to support the idea that there’s really a grassroots movement for a casino in places other than economically devastated southern Ulster County.
Voters should also be wary of the fact that campaign coffers of the few people who run the show in Albany have been well stuffed with millions in donations from the gambling industry.
The upstate casinos are only the ante. The real prize is the Big Apple, where major players like Trump, etc. can only drool over the prospect of huge profits once the state constitutional ban on gambling has been lifted.
How much of this gambling revenue actually trickles down to local schools and governments remains to be seen. It is not entirely unlikely that the casinos built in the Catskills, for instance, will after a few years from competition from New York City, their customer base, will wither and die on the vine. Call it Borscht-Belt redux.
Then there’s the placement of the question. Before the advent of these slick new voting machines, proposals were plastered across the top of the ballot. On November 5, a half-dozen proposals, gambling among them, will be on the flip side. That’s a deliberate connivance cynically contrived to hold down the vote.
And yet, the opposition is but pith in the wind, as one tongue-tied friend used to say. Moral outrage, well-documented social concerns, good-government angst and even brilliant editorials will be scant match for cold cash on the barrelhead aimed at an apathetic electorate.
My bet: Casino gambling passes statewide, and probably in Ulster, by five or six points, with at best a 35 percent turnout.
Around the county (north)
Experience suggests that predicting town-level elections is an exercise in futility, but hey, it is election season.
While producing some good theater, the contests for supervisor and town highway superintendent in Saugerties have generated more heat than light.
Born-again former supervisor Greg Helsmoortel faces Republican Kelly Myers in a rematch of their 2011 faceoff, where the village trustee, to the surprise of many, including Helsmoortel, scored a decisive victory. Things should go better for him this year, what with third-party Conservative Gaetana Ciarlante diverting votes from Myer. For the record, Ciarlante insists she can win a tight, 30-30-30-something three-way, even after being rejected at caucus by both major parties. Town Republican chairman Joe Roberti does his candidates no favors with negative, voter-turnoff, attack ads.
The contest between challenger Ray Mayone and Doug Myer for highway superintendent is just an old-fashioned gunfight. These two should face off on Partition Street at 30 paces.