The town board of Union, NY, recently approved a letter of support and application for the Traditions at the Glen’s casino license. The proposal is part of the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act (PDF)—signed by Governor Cuomo back in July 2013.
The key details of the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act have been outlined in the press release that was published when the Act was signed. The Traditions at the Glen, currently a resort and conference center, is located in Broome County in the Central-Southern Tier of New York state—one of three regions designated for casino development. According to the press release, the plan prohibits destination gaming resorts in regions that have not been selected for a period of seven years. And it does not alter the content or status of tribal exclusivity agreements—the plan is applicable only to non-tribally owned, destination gaming resorts.
Proponents of the Traditions at the Glen plan—and of similar plans that have been discussed in other parts of the country—extol the economic benefits of casinos and understate the potential harms (like feeding gambling addiction). Others decry gambling for its disproportionate effect on lower income communities and the corruption that it attracts.
I actually do not think that these views are antithetical. You can celebrate the economic benefits without discounting the social and cultural problems that the gambling industry engenders.
That being said, there are accompanying problems that we have to worry about. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the director of Institute for American Values, recently wrote at The New York Times that gambling participation rates have increased among lower-income groups, compounding the financial difficulties they already face. It used to be the case that the typical casino patron was more affluent than average. But Whitehead notes that increased participation rates among the less affluent has been facilitated by easy access to gambling sites and the increasing availability of slot-machine parlors, which accept small bets that eventually snowball into larger, financial losses.
Another surprising (though, not as much if you think about it) affect casinos may have is that they may lead to more dirty politicans and government officials. According to the Pew Research Center, public corruption charges correlate with the increasing presence of casinos. Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, known for his vocal opposition to the gambling industry in the state, is on record for his claim that casinos exacerbate drunk driving, gambling addiction, substance abuse, and other safety issues. While it is certainly important to be aware that many of these things seem to appear in conjunction with casinos, it’s always beneficial to put on our skeptic hats and realize that correlation is not causation.
Despite these supposed adverse phenomena, the gambling industry does seem to come with some desirable affects. According to the American Gaming Association, for example, casino resorts have and will continue to help reduce unemployment and dependence on government benefits for communities that allow such gambling venues. Traditions at the Glen claims that casino resorts will have a “spill-over-effect” on local businesses and add 850-1150 direct jobs. That does not sound like much; Broome County has a population of approximately 198,000 as of 2013. And, as of last month, the unemployment rate in the area is 6%. So, if anything, we should be cautiously optimistic about the economic impact of the Traditions’ casino proposal.
The more vibrant and diverse a region’s economy is, the better it is for its residents—blemishes and all. And when you’re an economically destitute town in upstate N.Y. like Monticello or Union, some economic investment and growth is better than none. After all, New York state has not been that hospitable for private enterprise. This could help rejuvenate the economy of upstate NY, which has been stagnant for some time.
We should take the social and cultural costs seriously. Yet I do not think they warrant a legislative cure (the Upstate New York Gaming and Economic Development Act includes a provision for dealing some of them). If states want to see more vibrant economies, they should allow industries and private enterprises to thrive with as little intervention as possible. Allowing the gambling industry to thrive is not likely to be a panacea, but it is an OK place to start.