Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
If New York voters approve Question One on the ballot on Tuesday, it could clear the way for full-fledged casinos in New York City after seven years. The city is already home to Aqueduct Racino in Queens, a thoroughbred horse racing facility where video gambling devices have been legal for two years.
So far, the racino has exceeded officials' expectations, bringing in $930 million for the state. More than half of that goes to the education fund. But Alan Woinski, the editor of the Gaming Industry Daily, told WNYC that new casinos in New York City would probably not pay the nearly 70 percent tax rate that Aqueduct pays now, and said they would saturate the market.
"The biggest problem in the casino industry business is they hear about the old days of casinos, 'You build it and they will come,' but that's just not the way it is anymore," he said.
A spokeswoman with Resorts World Casino, which owns Aqueduct, said it supports the goals of the casino referendum.
Among a small sampling of business owners in the neighborhood just beyond the Racino's gates, opinions were mixed but leaning toward favorable for the referendum.
Zaber Ahmed, a manager at the Dunkin' Donuts at the corner of Rockaway Blvd and 108th Street, said gamblers looking for a cheap cup of Joe have been stopping in.
"I see a lot of customers come with the casino card and they buy coffee from here," he said.
That was not the case next door, where Sam Rami, manager at the Stop 1 Deli said business has been down by half since a thrice weekly flea market closed in 2010 to make way for the Racino. He said the Racino is set far back on the property, a good 15 to 20 minute walk to the local commercial strip.
"The people don't have to come out," he said of his potential customers. "There is no movement in the street."
Primo Arjun, owner of Primo's Pawn Broker, one of three pawn shops clustered around the corner, said 25 percent of his business comes from customers looking for a loan that they can take back to the Racino. About the referendum, he said, "You can't stop people from gambling. Instead of other states getting the money, why not in New York?"
Opponents of the casino amendment have expressed concern that additional gambling operations in the state will increase gambling addiction and bring blight to surrounding communities.
Hugo Lopez, the manager at Dominick's Pizzeria next door to Aqueduct, said that has not been his experience.
"There are more people coming from different neighborhoods. It has just made it more alive."