The financial success of the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens means anti-gambling groups face some major hurdles in convincing the public that casinos are not worth the social costs, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes ahead with his controversial plan to legalize and expand Las Vegas-style gambling in New York state.
Despite not opening until the tail end of October, the Aqueduct Racino, owned by Genting's Resorts World, brought in $90 million in revenue for the state in 2011, most of which went toward education. According to Stefan Friedman, managing director at consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, which represents Genting, the company expects to bring in $300 million to $400 million for the state each year.
So it's no wonder Cuomo has hopped on the casino bandwagon: It looks like free money for the state that doesn't involve raising taxes; it creates lucrative business for the private sector and, maybe the most important concern in this economy, it appears to be a great source for job creation.
Still, some say there is more to the picture.
“Over the long-term, no one wins in a casino,” says Charlotte Wellins of the Coalition Against Gambling New York. "What if our government started pushing drugs like they're pushing gambling? You know, if they were going to push prostitution, that would bring in revenue, too. But will it improve the quality of life of our citizens?"
The 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that compulsive gambling rates double in areas within 50 miles of a gambling facility. Beyond the moral concerns raised by gambling, Wellins argues that the job creation and perceived economic benefits of running casinos are overblown.
“Many casinos, if you look at Atlantic City, many of them hire part-time employees so they don't have to pay benefits to them,” she said. “They’re low-paying jobs to begin with, and they produce nothing.”
Statewide vote on gambling in 2013
Under Gov. Cuomo’s proposed plan, additions to the Aqueduct racetrack would include table games with live dealers, such as in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Beyond the casino proposal is a plan to build a convention center spanning 3.8 million square feet on the same site, offering restaurants, Broadway shows and other non-gambling attractions. However, table games cannot be added until legislators pass a constitutional amendment. At the earliest, it would be November 2013 before the amendment could be approved or denied by voters.