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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
 

Casino should go to a have-not

By Sara Foss
Monday, June 23, 2014

I’m a casino skeptic, as has previously been noted.
But if the Capital Region is going to get one — and it is — then it should go in an economically depressed area.
After all, officials have said that one of the primary purposes of upstate casinos is to revitalize upstate communities by generating much-needed revenue and jobs.
Robert Williams, the acting head of the New York State Gaming Commission, emphasized this in a June letter to a state senator from the Catskills, John Bonacic, writing that “The intent of the Upstate New York Gaming Act of 2013 is to provide maximum benefit to the state through bringing economic benefit to municipalities that have been economically disadvantaged.”
He adds: “For those proposed locations that are more affluent, a project would have to provide considerably greater overall direct and residual economic benefit to the host municipality and surrounding region than a smaller project sited in a disadvantaged region.”
This makes a certain amount of sense, and I imagine it comes as music to the ears of developers pitching casinos for poor communities with little in the way of assets or resources.
Williams is essentially saying that the casinos proposed for Howe Caverns in Schoharie County and Montgomery County will be taken just as seriously — if not more seriously — as those proposed for communities that are wealthier and more attractive, such as East Greenbush. And that if the East Greenbush proposal wins, it will be because it promises significantly more than the other proposals.
I’ve always viewed the Howe Caverns and Montgomery County casino proposals as long-shot bids.
But after reading Williams’ letter, I’m wondering if I was wrong to do so.
Of course, it’s also true that Montgomery County wanted concessions that the state was unwilling to give.
County officials asked for a 60-day extension on the application deadline and a $25 million reduction in the gaming licensing fee, saying $50 million was too high a price for such an economically depressed, sparsely populated area. But the Gaming Commission said that granting the request would create an unfair bidding process.
This was the right decision, but I can see where Montgomery County was coming from.
With a median household income of $42,830, they are a much needier county than the other counties that have thrown their hats into the casino competition. For example, Schenectady County’s median household income is $56,445. Which doesn’t mean that Schenectady County doesn’t contain pockets of need — in the city of Schenectady, the median household income is a pitiful $38,485, according to U.S. Census data. But you don’t see the Schenectady casino development team asking the state to give it a break. All developers — even those seeking to build in communities with high rates of poverty — must pay the same hefty fees.
One of the big arguments against siting a casino in a needy community is that gambling is a tax on the poor, as people who live in the poorest neighborhoods are twice as likely to have gambling problems as those who reside in neighborhoods with the lowest poverty levels, according to a recent study by the University of Buffalo.
I’m sympathetic to this argument, but also a little uncomfortable with it.
For one thing, it can sound patronizing — as if the poor are in greater need of protection from casinos than the middle class and wealthy. And it also ignores the fact that many of the communities in contention for the casino are desperate for jobs. Why should those jobs end up in a community that doesn’t really need them, such as East Greenbush, while Montgomery County or Schenectady go wanting?
Unfortunately, you don’t have to search too hard to find an economically depressed area in upstate New York.
And with so much need, why should communities that are doing relatively well — as East Greenbush and Rensselaer are — get the casino?
Again, I’m not a fan of building casinos to promote economic development.
But I’d rather see the have-nots win than the haves.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.

 

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