Why mess with a classic?
That’s what Institute for American Values President David Blankenhorn was thinking when he smashed a slot machine with a sledgehammer in the shadow of the Capitol on Tuesday. The demonstration of opposition to plans to expand casino gambling in the state was an homage to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who was an outspoken critic of gambling and smashed slot machines 80 years ago.
“There hasn’t been much serious public discussion yet,” said Blankenhorn, who hoped Tuesday’s stunt would bring more attention to the effects of expanded gambling that haven’t been discussed much, like the impact on poor people and problem gamblers.
He argued that the proposed constitutional amendment to allow up to seven non-Indian live-table casinos, which voters will get to vote on next month, has been advanced over the last two years by the promise of potential benefits, like more money for local governments and education and new jobs, but there hasn’t been any substance behind those claims.
“There hasn’t been a single public hearing,” he said.
Citing his own recently completed report, Blankenhorn predicts the four upstate casinos planned in the first phase of casino development will end up being a transfer of wealth from poor people to rich people.
“The evidence overwhelmingly shows this is bad public policy,” he said. “It is regressive. It takes from the have-nots and gives to the haves. It does not promote economic growth.”
A study earlier this year from the UNLV International Gaming Institute acknowledges that casinos are regressive, but concludes that the impact can be a net positive if revenues from the casinos are used to benefit poor people. Business and municipal leaders who gathered at the Business Council of New York State headquarters last week predict that passage of the referendum will lead to thousands of new jobs and economic development.
The state Division of Budget estimates the state could receive $430 million in additional annual revenue if the casino referendum is approved. Some $238 million would go to education or property tax relief across the state and $192 million would go directly to local governments near the casinos for discretionary spending.
Blankenhorn counters that this additional revenue will come from the people who can least afford to lose it. He said his research indicates up to 55 percent of the money spent at casinos comes from problem gamblers and that slot machine players are most likely to be poor or retirees.
He added that gambling addiction will likely grow with the expansion. “Living near a casino increases your likelihood of going to a casino,” he said.
There has been some talk among local and state elected officials about dedicating some portion of the gambling revenue to dealing with the negative impacts of expanding casino gambling, like increased instances of problem gambling.
Blankenhorn began studying this issue about two years ago as more and more states looked at casino gambling and other forms of gambling as ways to generate revenues for their budgets.