As opponents of next month's casino gambling referendum, it is admittedly difficult for us to objectively view the way the ballot question has been worded. But the results of this week's Siena Research Institute poll confirm what seemed obvious to us, and what other gambling foes have been grousing about: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has effectively stacked the deck in favor of the amendment.
Unlike the usual, straightforward ballot question, the one drafted by the state Board of Elections (after consultation with the governor's office) seems to do quite a bit of editorializing. In part, it states, "The proposed amendment ... would authorize up to seven casinos ... for the purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated [our emphasis]."
We can't quibble with the amendment's stated purposes; clearly, economic development and making money for the state, and possibly even local governments, is a fine idea and much the point behind opening casinos. Nor do we dispute that casinos could accomplish some of those goals -- at least to some degree.
The main problem are the costs, which the referendum would also mention if it were truly neutral. New casinos are likely to cause serious social problems associated with compulsive gambling in their host communities. That's been the pattern wherever they've opened. (Ever notice all the pawn shops around casinos?)
Plus, in the case of the one envisioned for Saratoga County, they'll provide serious competition for the thoroughbred and harness tracks that are located there, and the farm industry that supports them. Thus, whatever jobs are created at the casino may be lost at the tracks and horse farms.
Another concern is that the state will simply be too late to cash in on the gambling craze, since many of the other Northeast states have already placed their bets. Indeed, the state has been told not to expect any of the really big casinos that places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City are famous for because operators doubt the upstate region could support them. How successful will second-tier operations be? And who will be their primary customers? If the answer is people within the region, then it's all the more cause for concern.
The Siena poll found that when people were simply asked whether they supported legalization of gambling at up to seven casinos, the results were evenly split, 46 percent to 46 percent. When the poll added the above language that frames the issue in terms of economic development, fully 55 percent responded favorably. That pretty much says all anyone needs to know about how the wording is likely to skew the referendum's outcome. The state should change it.