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October 21, 2013

Pro-casino wording has no place in voting booth

The Daily Star

---- — There are reasonable arguments both for and against the legalization of non-Indian casinos in New York. And in these cash-strapped times, one can understand why Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials would be tempted by the prospect of a new source of tax revenue.

But the blatantly slanted pro-casino pitch that was upheld last week by a state judge and will appear before voters next month is patronizing, dishonest and utterly indefensible. And worse yet was the dubious, back-door process by which the gambling industry’s influence made it onto the ballot in the first place.

Proponents of casino gambling often cite the potential it has to create jobs, boost tax revenue and attract tourists, which are all reasonable arguments. But whether casinos generate enough wealth to outweigh their negative effects – increased crime and problem gambling, for example – remains the subject of debate.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that based on the way the question is posed on the ballot:

“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?”

Predictably, government-watchdog groups smelled a rat when the language was posted online Aug. 23. Days later, Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder sued the state Board of Elections, saying it had “changed the neutrally worded casino amendment by adding language to gain voter support.”

Snyder’s suit was thrown out last week by acting Albany County Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin, who noted that the deadline for filing the suit before the ballot was approved by the Board of Elections was Aug. 19. That sounds fair – until you learn that the state didn’t post the ballot online until Aug. 23, four days after the deadline for challenging it had passed.

The Board of Elections shamelessly defended its chicanery by claiming the employee responsible for posting the ballot online had missed work because of an illness. Snyder, predictably, didn’t buy this “dog ate my homework”-style nonsense.

“It’s bitterly ironic I am accused of unreasonable delay,” Snyder said to The Associated Press, “when it took them 25 days to hit that button.”

If it seems as if casino interests are steering this ship, it’s probably no coincidence. The gambling industry, according to The New York Times, has spent $59 million on lobbying and campaign donations since 2005, with more than $1 million of that to Cuomo alone — more than any other New York official. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that he has pushed so hard to provide the industry with a return on its investment.