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New York Post

 

Say 'No' To Casinos

December 02, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

New Yorkers voted last month 57 percent to 43 percent to OK four casinos upstate. But that doesn’t mean that if you live in, say, Saratoga Springs, you must resign yourself to one-armed bandits.

Massachusetts has shown that citizens can fight back against gambling — town by town.

Just like in New York, Massachusetts has a Democratic governor who has pushed "destination resort casinos." Two years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law green-lighting three casinos — plus one slots parlor — in different regions. "Gaming can create jobs, generate new revenue and spur economic growth," Patrick said.

What’s happened since then is instructive.

Just like New Yorkers, Bay Staters supported gambling in theory. In 2011, 58 percent of Massachusetts residents approved of the idea in a poll (they didn’t have to vote statewide).

But since then, town after town has voted against rolling the dice. What was supposed to be intense competition among towns for casinos has become a public stand against them.

Consider what happened this fall.

Three municipalities were supposed to compete for the billion-dollar-plus casino "investment" around Boston. Instead, voters in two areas — East Boston and Milford — emphatically voted "no." Only the economically depressed city of Everett voted yes. Voters in the Boston suburb of Tewksbury refused the slots parlor.

The same thing happened in western Massachusetts (which, like upstate New York, has been hard-bit by the loss of manufacturing jobs). West Springfield and the small town of Palmer voted "no" on a casino; only the city of Springfield voted yes.

In other towns, casinos gave up long ago, not even trying for a vote. Private polls showed it wasn’t worth an effort.

Massachusetts has shown that making this a local issue makes a big difference. "The local votes are critical," says Steve Trettel of the Casino-Free Milford advocacy group.

Brian Gannon, an East Boston casino opponent, agrees. Local referenda campaigns "were the only way for people to get good information. More people could see they wouldn’t see a big economic benefit," he says.

Voters decided that they didn’t need a business that would suck money out of restaurants and stores and prey on addicts. ("Problem" gamblers, while less than 5 percent of the population, can account for 35 percent of gambling revenues, my colleague Steve Malanga has found.)

Another thing worth noting, which The Boston Globe has pointed out: Towns that have voted "no" are wealthier. Cities and towns with any other economic options don’t choose casinos.

"I’m kind of encouraged by Massachusetts," says David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values. "I was in Milford last week on Election Day," he says, to see "grass-roots democracy."

In Milford, casino interests "were promising the sun, the moon and the stars, promising jobs" and tax dollars, he says. But voters said "no."

Rejecting casinos at a local level will be harder in New York. The Bay State’s casino law required local-level siting votes; New York’s didn’t. "There wasn’t this open contempt for the voter" in Massachusetts, says Blankenhorn.

Cuomo’s casino law only requires that a state-siting panel base 20 percent of its decision on "local impact," including some undefined measure of "local support."

Residents in upstate counties such as Sullivan and Saratoga should make clear that "local support" must mean a local vote.

And, no, last month’s vote to the change the state Constitution doesn’t count. The misleading language focused on the promise of education-funding increases and property-tax reductions. (When I voted, a "helper" told me the measure "is for education," an improper summary that could have skewed votes.)

Even with the misleading language, Saratoga County, a possible casino site, voted against the constitutional amendment.

If Saratoga and other Upstate targets of the gaming industry were to shoot down casinos via municipal zoning, it would be difficult for Cuomo to ignore. After all, the governor has said he’ll weigh what local governments think on, say, fracking.

Downstate New York, too, should make clear its opposition. New York County (Manhattan) voted narrowly against casinos — even though the Upstate plans don’t affect Manhattan residents.

If the City Council were to pass an anti-gambling resolution, it would send a clear message to the industry — which eventually wants Downstate wallets.

Why didn’t Gov. Cuomo give New Yorkers the same local control over this critical issue as Massachusetts’ Gov. Patrick did? He was probably nervous about what people would say.

But New Yorkers have ways to make their voices heard.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2013/12/02/say-no-to-casinos/

 

 
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