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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

Hoopla for casinos is hardly universal

By Sara Foss
Saturday, July 5, 2014

With great fanfare, developers vying to build casinos in New York delivered their applications to the state Gaming Commission last Monday.

Throughout the day, vans, trucks and U-Hauls dropped off boxes of applications at the commission’s downtown Schenectady office.

For each applicant — and for those who believe a casino will bring prosperity and good times to their communities — these boxes represent hope.

Although 17 applications were submitted, only four licenses will be awarded, to three regions: the Capital Region, the Catskills/Mid-Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier. One lucky region — we won’t know which one until fall — will get two casinos.

Different groups and communities found different ways to show support for whichever casino project they preferred.

The Chamber of Schenectady County promoted the project proposed for Schenectady on the former State Theater’s marquee, paying for the message “NYS, Pick the best site! Mohawk Harbor” in big red letters. Residents of Amsterdam organized a pro-casino parade for Tuesday, which was later canceled because of the hot weather.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

And to be swept away by the promises of casino developers and public officials.

But there are good reasons to temper our collective enthusiasm for casinos.

There’s last week’s Moody’s Investors Service report, which downgraded its outlook on the country’s gaming industry from stable to negative.

And the actions of the anti-casino group Save East Greenbush, which submitted a binder of petitions with more than 2,000 signatures to the Gaming Commission and has also filed a lawsuit against the Town Board and the casino’s developers challenging the board’s approval of a resolution of support for a casino.

And the surprisingly strong turnout at an anti-casino rally held in Amsterdam on the same day as the pro-casino parade that was ultimately canceled.

I learned a few things from this rally.

Turns out, not every Montgomery County resident supports the casino proposed for 520 acres in the city of Amsterdam and town of Florida. And among those opposed are farmers, who said they are worried that a casino — which would be built on farmland — will inflate property values and hurt their bottom line.

I’ve heard a lot of different arguments against casinos, but this was the first time I’d heard much about the concerns of local farmers.

“Building a casino in the town will make it harder for farmers to get by,” Tim Seivers, a dairy farmer from Florida, told Gazette reporter Matthew L. McKibben.

Farming is hard, and dairy farmers have been struggling.

Will a casino make life even harder for them?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s worth considering. If promoting local farms and supporting New York’s agricultural industry is a priority for the state — and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that it is — the impact a casino might have on farmers should be evaluated.

Whether the Amsterdam rallyers were aware of the Moody’s report is unclear.

But they were certainly aware of the cautionary notes sounded by the report, which echo the somewhat downbeat projections for the casino industry contained in an earlier report by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“There is an oversaturation of gambling in this part of the country,” said Sarah Cornett, who edits the Facebook page for the anti-casino group People Against the Town of Florida Casino. “How much more gambling do we need?”

This isn’t so very different from Moody’s Vice President Keith Foley’s take on the situation.

“The fact regional gaming revenues excluding Nevada remained flat, despite further improvement in the economy and additional regional casinos throughout the U.S., is a strong indication that U.S. consumers will continue to limit their spending to items more essential than gaming,” Foley said, in a statement.

In the report, Moody’s estimates that total U.S. gaming revenue reported by state gaming authorities will decrease at a rate of between 3 and 5 percent over the next 12 to 18 months. This is a change: Moody’s had previously projected that gaming revenue would increase between 0 and 2 percent. And since nothing’s fixed in stone, perhaps the company’s projections will become more upbeat in the future.

One might argue that developers are free to invest their money as they wish, and suffer the consequences if they make a bad investment.

There’s certainly some truth to this, but I’d argue that casinos have community-wide impact, and that if they fail to make good on their promises, it will affect us all.

 

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