Anti-casino campaign kicks into high gear

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ALBANY -- Gambling opponents charged Monday that lawmakers are failing to disclose hidden costs associated with the proposed rapid expansion of casinos in New York, including hidden infrastructure expenses, more problem gamblers and the economic hit to nearby businesses and home values.

With six weeks before Election Day, anti-casino activists ramped up their efforts by releasing two reports critical of gambling.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo predicted on Monday that voters will pass the referendum, which would amend the state constitution to allow up to seven non-Indian-run casinos in New York.

Joel Rose, a member of the nonprofit Coalition Against Gambling in New York, predicted that if voters approve casino expansion, "You'll have impoverishment of host communities. You'll have lives wrecked. And you'll have an increase in crime, especially a few years down the road when people who have become addicted to gambling run out of their legitimate sources of money."

The coalition issued a report that says gambling proponents -- including politicians who back the proposal -- are downplaying the negative impacts of casinos.

Cuomo and many state legislators back expansion. They argue that New York is losing potential gambling revenue to casinos in neighboring states, such as Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

They also note that New York has plenty of gambling now: There are not only five Indian-run casinos but also nine "racinos," horse-racing tracks that offer thousands of video slot machines. Because of the racinos, New York collected $832 million in gambling-tax revenue in 2012, fourth highest among all states, according to a report by Moody's Investors Service.

"It's not really gambling vs. no gambling," Cuomo said Monday, referring to the referendum. "We already have gambling."

The Democrat predicted that voters will approve casino expansion.

"I think it passes," he said.

The casino question will be No. 1 among six propositions on the ballot Nov. 5. Critics said the proposal puts a rosy spin on the issue, noting it reads that new casinos are for the "purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."

The Institute for American Values, a Manhattan nonprofit that opposes gambling, issued a report recently claiming that casinos rely on problem gamblers for their revenue base and that casinos weaken nearby businesses and property values.

"There appears to be at least one exception to the rule that casinos tend to weaken nearby businesses," said the group, which seeks to strengthen civil society. "Regional casinos do seem to promote the flourishing of nearby pawnshops, check-cashing operations, and high-interest lending establishments such as payday lenders."

Opponents are outgunned financially. Rose said his group has "little money to speak of" to fight the referendum. In contrast, at least three groups are prepared to spend money to promote casinos, including the New York State Business Council.

American-Indian tribes that could have fought casino expansion are staying on the sidelines after reaching agreements with Cuomo to settle long-running land and casino revenue sharing disagreements.

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