Local voters said ‘no’ to casinos
I seldom expect election results to go the way I’d like, and so it came as no surprise that voters approved bringing Las Vegas-style casinos to New York.
What did surprise me was the tepid response to the proposal from upstate voters.
Aren’t we the people who most stand to benefit from the state’s push to expand gambling? Isn’t the amendment designed to help us?
The governor couldn’t have come up with a bigger carrot to get voters to support Proposition 1 than the promise of new, well-paying jobs, money for cash-starved school districts and tax relief. Upstate voters need and want these things. So why did a majority of Capital Region residents vote against the gambling measure? Why didn’t we understand that it’s for our own good?
The gambling measure passed with 57 percent of the vote, with 39 counties saying yes to casinos and 23 saying no.
Much of the support came from New York City and its suburbs, as well as the Catskills and Southern Tier, while voters in western and central New York, and the Capital Region, largely rejected it.
Especially interesting to me was the measure’s defeat in Saratoga County, where 25,488 people voted against it and 21,956 voted for it. Isn’t Saratoga County one of the counties that understands the benefits of gambling, or at least gambling revenue? Weren’t the people of Saratoga County supposed to be receptive to having a full-fledged casino in their own backyard?
Seeking answers, I decided to take a second look at some of the reader emails I’ve received in recent weeks. The vast majority of the people who wrote to me were opposed to the casino proposal, and offered thoughtful explanations as to why.
Wrote one reader from Glenmont, “I really hope that New Yorkers vote the referendum down. Not because I’m a prude, but because it shows no vision, no forward thinking, no innovation. If this is New York’s answer to generating revenues, then that’s sad. There has to be a better way to bring business and money into this state.”
“I am not opposed to gambling, but am opposed to the expansion of it,” wrote another reader, from Ballston Spa. “I grew up in Saratoga, work at both tracks, so I’ve had exposure to gambling. However, I pretty much don’t participate. I go to the track once or twice a year with my family, but that’s about it. I’ve not put a nickel in the VLTs at the Racino. I’ve watched the mindless exercise put forth by folks sitting in front of the machines and wonder what the object, or thrill is.”
Of course, the gambling measure had a broad base of local support.
One reader advised me to “spend some time talking to the over 600 people who work at the Racino & Harness track” to learn “how it helps them.” Another wrote, “Yes to casinos. YOU are welcome to take care of all the irresponsible people. I for one am sick and tired of hearing about them and paying for them!”
What seems clear is that the prevalence of gambling in the Capital Region has led to mixed feelings on the subject. Some see it as a source of jobs and an economic boon for the area, while others highlight the social costs and are skeptical about the purported benefits. For this latter group, familiarity hasn’t bred contempt so much as unease.
Which makes sense.
The roots of my own gambling unease stem back to high school, when I worked at a convenience store. Part of my job entailed selling lottery tickets, a task I quickly grew to hate. For one thing, I had no experience with the lottery, and I found the games confusing. But I also disliked selling the tickets to people who clearly had a gambling problem.
Locally, Proposition 1 failed in Albany and Schenectady counties, but passed in Montgomery, Fulton, Schoharie and Rensselaer counties. For those counting at home, about 103,862 people in seven Capital Region counties voted against expanding gambling, while about 97,485 voted to do so.
The measure authorizes the construction of seven casinos, with the first four to be built in the Catskills, Southern Tier and Capital Region. Supporters believe the fancy new facilities will draw tourists to depressed upstate communities to gamble.
New York City voters might support casinos at the polls, but are they going to visit these casinos once they’re built? Pre-election polling would suggest no.
Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, said that while more than 60 percent of New York City residents indicated they would vote for Proposition 1 in pre-election polling, just 30 percent said they were “somewhat likely” to go to the upstate casinos.
This makes a fair amount of sense.
I have friends in New York City and they’re more inclined to travel to Europe than take a trip upstate. Are casinos going to change that? Again, I’m doubtful.
Which makes it somewhat ironic that downstate voters played such a role in determining the outcome of the casino amendment. Voters in the Capital Region said no to a casino on Tuesday. But we’re going to get one, like it or not.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.