Gambling Opponents Gear Up to Fight Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo's call to expand gambling in New York is facing more opposition form religious and anti-gambling groups. Their concerns range from personal issues, such as a possible increase in gambling addiction, bankruptcy and suicide, to crime and other community problems.

Longtime anti-gambling activist Charlotte Wellins — and a self-described "strong supporter" of Cuomo — said she had just fired off an email to the governor.

"I basically said that I was highly disappointed that he was taking the stand he is," said Wellins, secretary of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, "because it is wrong to balance the budget and add to the state coffers by expanding gambling in the state, that it is wrong for our government to prey upon those least able to afford it."

According to her group, gambling addiction rates double within 50 miles of a casino, and compulsive gamblers cost the economy between $14,006 and $22, 077 per year if two percent become addicted. The group has also noted that personal bankruptcy rates are 100 percent higher in counties with casinos than in counties without.

Some community activists also fear gambling would have a disproportionate impact on the populations they serve.

Peter Yee, the assistant executive director of Hamilton-Madison House, said that in one study gambling had ranked the top social ill within San Francisco’s Chinese community, and argued the problem was just as bad in New York. He estimated that 5,000 Chinese-New Yorkers currently travel daily to casinos outside the state. If casinos are legalized in the state, he said gambling addiction would become even more common than it is now.

"Minimally, the state has to be responsible," Yee said, adding that Albany should fund treatment for addiction.

Damaris McGuire, director of the New York State Episcopal Public Policy Network, said while the church had yet to take a formal stand on the issue, it did successfully oppose a similar 1997 effort.

One key difference from 1997, however, is that then-Governor George Pataki didn’t weigh in on the matter.

"That’s going to be different this year," said McGuire, referring to Cuomo's support for the expansion. "It’s certainly going to make it more complicated. We’re also in a different fiscal position, so for some people, it becomes much more seductive to look at easy money."

Supporters of gambling argue that gambling can revive economically depleted regions, such as the Catskills. But McGuire said that unlike other industries, casinos did not have a positive ripple effect on communities where they were located, because gambling tourists were less likely to frequent other establishments.

“They’re not going to that cute little B&B, or that wonderful French restaurant,” she said. “Casinos don’t want you to leave.”

Others say they will not oppose the proposal, but do worry about the negative social impacts. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn has sponsored a bill that would fund a public awareness campaign, meant to counter gambling addiction.