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Reporter's Notebook

August 17, 2013

Following the money in the casino debate

(Continued)

One of New York’s neighbors, Massachusetts, is wrestling with the same question as it also seeks to find sites for proposed casinos. “There’s no question when casinos are up and running it’s going to have an impact,” Massachusetts state Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is also the chairman of the Bay State’s lottery, told the Boston Herald two weeks ago

We contacted Stephen Schafer of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York, who voiced concern that his group will be drowned out by the expected fusillade of TV ads bought by the casino industry in promoting the casino proposal. Schafer said he was highly skeptical of claims that new casinos would appreciably increase the amount of revenue New York derives from gaming, especially in light of what he says are the costs of promoting an addictive activity whose objective is to separate players from their cash.

Schafer also said he doesn’t buy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pitch that he is backing the referendum in order to drive more money to education and stimulate the upstate economy. “I really think there is a very different motivation,” he said, pointing out that is going to be a spending frenzy from the casino industry on ads urging New Yorkers to support the referendum.

We also contacted the head of the New York Gaming Association, veteran lobbyist James Featherstonhaugh, who is also a partner in Saratoga Casino and Raceway, one of New York’s most profitable racinos. The facility also happens to be a potential site for one of the four casinos.

Asked whether he thinks traditional lottery revenue will be impacted by new casinos, Featherstonhaugh said, “I just haven’t thought it through enough.”

He added: “I bet the state officials haven’t thought it through, either.”

We offered no argument to that speculation.

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