Passing this referendum to legalize gambling would lead to better outcomes than defeating it.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's elaborate chess moves to craft the constitutional amendment and the law that implements it, and to settle what had been intractable disputes with upstate Indian tribes, have been masterful.
A win for the initiative could jump-start the upstate economy, send revenue flowing to education and municipalities, and eventually lead the way to casinos in our region.
If voters approve, this is what would happen: As many as four casinos would be built upstate as part of a resort and economic development push. Revenue would go to state coffers and municipalities. And a seven-year period would be provided to let the upstate casinos build clientele and habits, before casinos can be licensed downstate.
The genius of the setup politically is that a defeat of the amendment would bring just as much new gambling to New York -- only of a tackier variety less likely to draw bettors from other states or long-term development. A clause in the enabling legislation is designed to stop any efforts to defeat the amendment by the current operators of nine "racinos" in the state, such as Resorts World at Aqueduct. The clause says that if the casino proposal isn't approved, six video lottery terminal parlors would open. Three of those would be on Long Island, which would only get two if the referendum passes.
The mere threat of the gambling amendment's passage helped Cuomo come to terms with upstate tribes that had held back on the state's cut of revenue from their own casinos, as well as taxes from cigarette sales. For the hundreds of millions of dollars these payments would bring the state, the tribes got a promise that new casinos would not be built near their existing ones.
Voting down an initiative to legalize gambling in a state that already has five Indian casinos, nine "racinos," a multifaceted lottery, and horse betting in person, by phone and over the Internet -- not to mention illegal wagering -- would be an entirely empty gesture. In fact, for gambling opponents, it would be a worse than empty gesture, bringing with it six new slot parlors.
It's not that there isn't plenty to oppose in both the gambling expansion and the way it's been handled. The casinos may not provide as much upstate revitalization as hoped. They would inevitably increase the number of problem gamblers where they are located. Prevention and treatment programs funded by casinos would help, but wouldn't totally prevent these problems.
And why should downstate residents who enjoy gambling wait seven years for a convenient casino? Major league casinos in and near New York City, which can grab the business of some of the world's richest tourists and business travelers, are a smart bet. And the inclusion in the referendum of rosy language stating approval would be "promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes" is cheating.
But this amendment, along with the streamlining and oversight of all the bets already being placed, and the expansion it would create, is important and overdue.
The gambling issue in New York has been a fractured mess for years, and amending the constitution to fix that has been a political and ugly process. Even so, the fix is now at hand.
Vote yes on Proposal No. 1. STATE PROPOSAL NO. 1
The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?