Aqueduct expansion is a risky bet
Why bringing more gambling to New York raises serious concerns
By Steven Huberman / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, February 10, 2012, 4:22 AM
Renderings of a proposed convention center that Genting wants to build at Aqueduct. Will it be good for New York?
New York’s push to expand casino gambling, part of a growing national trend, could be a risky bet both for the state and the growing army of people who will gamble away their money.
The proposal to expand Genting Group’s “racino” operation at Aqueduct, build a huge convention center and 3,000-room hotel complex there and possibly allow table games in New York is certainly good for development — but we also must plan for any downside from having more casinos.
It is unclear if expansion will be good for Queens — or New York as a whole. Just building a casino does not mean you gain $400 million a year in revenue, especially if your gamblers are just taking their money from the Yonkers racino and spending it at Aqueduct.
For one thing, the promise that the addition of mega-casinos would transform Atlantic City economically has not been realized. The new Atlantic City Convention Center and an outlet center called The Walk have done little to establish a long-term visitor base, especially after neighboring New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware opened racetrack gambling parlors.
Until the mid-1970s, casinos in the United States were limited to Nevada. Today they are a big business. In 2008, 55 million people visited U.S. casinos. More than 233 Native American tribes operated casinos across the nation. Add another 445 commercial casinos and 44 racinos, and you have $65 billion in gross gaming revenues.
As the economy worsened, cash-strapped state governments embraced casinos to bolster tourism and revenue. Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida are now expanding gambling.
Whether or not there is an economic development advantage, there certainly is the human toll for which we must prepare. The U.S. has 2.6 million pathological gamblers. New York alone has 302,000 gambling addicts.
Compulsive gambling destroys lives. It often starts as a teenager making illegal sports and Internet bets. It is not about the money. It is about the excitement. You take bigger risks and make bigger bets. When you feel depressed or stressed, your urge to gamble is overwhelming.
Problem gambling can cause bankruptcy, legal problems, divorce and suicide. But, rather than funding programs to prevent and treat the gambling addiction, states are cutting these essential efforts.
Some states are shrinking the pool of money to assist gambling addicts. Nationally, less than 0.5% of pathological gamblers are being treated by state-funded programs.
This is a mental health crisis — one that we must be prepared to manage so that even as we harvest the upside, we can ensure that the social and human problems associated with addiction don’t outweigh the benefits of job creation.
Casinos and lotteries provide opportunities for people to gamble. Just as liquor stores do not create alcoholics, casinos do not cause gambling. But they do prime the pump.
The bottom line is that more gambling generally hurts those who can least afford it — lower-income working people, especially minorities.
New York already has nine racinos, five Native American casinos, horse racing and a lottery. At a time when working families are struggling to make ends meet, we must be sure to deal with the social problems compulsive gambling creates before we expand even more.
Huberman is dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.