At about the same time that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo began his “State of the State” speech on Wednesday, a middle-aged woman walked away from a slot machine called Great Wall in the new gambling hall adjoining Aqueduct racetrack. That machine had taken enough of her money for one day, said the woman, who preferred to keep her name to herself.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
The last thing on her mind was the governor, until it was mentioned to her that he was about to call for a change in the state constitution that would allow full-fledged casinos operated by groups other than Indian tribes to be built across New York State.
“Aren’t they already here?” she asked, sweeping her hand across the thousands of blinking and whirring gizmos that form Resorts World Casino New York City.
Technically, no, they are not. The Aqueduct complex in Queens, where Mr. Cuomo also wants to build a convention center, is considered a “racino.” That unappealing portmanteau means it is filled with souped-up slot machines but doesn’t have a single flesh-and-blood blackjack dealer or croupier. Casinos have at least a few humans who deal the cards and spin the roulette wheels (though there, too, machines are dominant these days, with most gamblers required to display no more skill than that possessed by the average rock).
This woman did not like the governor’s idea.
“I’d rather keep it all in Atlantic City,” she said. “It’s too tempting to have it close to home, especially for younger people who don’t have much money.”
Naturally, not everyone on the Resorts World floor agreed with her. One man also had Atlantic City in mind but, unlike her, he warmed to the idea of having a new casino within easy commuting distance. He was tired of the long drive to southern New Jersey, he said.
A debate along these lines, with other arguments no doubt entering the conversation, will ultimately decide if Mr. Cuomo gets his way. The process of amending the state constitution is sufficiently complicated that nothing will happen for years.
The governor’s position was rooted in practicality: New York has tribe-run casinos. It already has, by his count, 29,000 gaming machines like the ones at Aqueduct. It is surrounded by casinos in neighboring states. “It’s time we confronted reality,” he said, and thus plunge fully into the casino business.
A similar pragmatism has come to overtake leading politicians who used to describe state-sponsored gambling as wrong-headed. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, has muted what had been a longtime opposition to casinos. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, too, has shifted. Over the years, the mayor has described revenue from casinos as “regressive,” and he has questioned whether any benefits accrue to nearby towns. But lately, with a note of resignation, Mr. Bloomberg has said that if expanded gambling is to be, he wants to make sure that New York City gets its share.
It would be interesting to know if Mr. Cuomo discussed this subject with his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. In his day, Mario Cuomo vigorously opposed what his son now endorses. “It doesn’t generate wealth, it just redistributes it,” he said of casino gambling in 1994. He added, “Casinos are a whole different breed. It changes communities.”
It can also be unbearably fickle. Just ask Atlantic City. A report last month from PricewaterhouseCoopers said that Atlantic City’s gambling revenue, which totaled $5.2 billion in 2006, had shriveled to $3.3 billion in 2011, and would shrink further, to $2.8 billion, by 2015.
The image that casinos try to project is one of glamour, as if they were filled with James Bonds and Carrie Bradshaws. The reality is more like that of the state-run numbers game known as the lottery. Customers tend to be the working poor, praying that God has nothing else on his plate but to smile on them.
“Gambling is, and always has been, all about finding ways to get suckers to part with their money,” said E. J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “And the poor suckers are usually poorer or, at best, subsistence.”
In his speech on Wednesday, Governor Cuomo emphasized that “this is about the jobs that the casino industry generates.” He did not explain why it’s the state’s duty to make it easier for people to throw away their hard-earned dollars on games designed to make losers of them.
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