Playing Roulette With the Catskills’ Future

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a plan to locate three casinos in upstate New York. One of the proposed regions that would house a casino is the Catskills area. A location some politicians and developers are eyeing is the site of the former Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake in the town of Thompson.

The governor should seriously reconsider the plan. Bringing more casinos to New York is a losing bet for New York, an expensive gamble that the state can’t afford.

With upstate New York in the economic doldrums, the governor sees casinos as a quick cash cow to bring jobs and tax revenue to long-suffering regions of the state. Unemployment in some of the upstate counties tops 9 percent. Sullivan County, which contains the towns of Liberty, Monticello and South Fallsburg, has a staggering unemployment rate of 9.9 percent. The average age of upstate residents keeps climbing as their children flee the area in search of jobs. Legalized gambling would provide construction and casino jobs in the depressed area, an area the governor certainly wants on his side should he run for re-election. Pictures of the governor at the groundbreaking of gleaming new casinos would provide a well-needed jolt to his popularity in the region.

But the stark facts are that long term, casinos do more harm than good. In recent years, other states have jumped on the gambling bandwagon only to see projected revenues fall far short of estimates. Oklahoma, Maine and Arkansas haven’t been able to cash in on their legalized casinos — and they don’t have an Atlantic City next door to compete against. Oklahoma’s gambling revenues, at $70 million a year, are half of what legislators promised they would be.

Gambling is not the sure bet politicians think it is; it simply sucks money away from existing sectors of the economy and from other forms of legalized gambling. For example, New Jersey has witnessed an 80 percent decrease in its racetrack betting. An estimated 100 restaurants and stores in Atlantic City have gone out of business since the casinos opened. And get this: Atlantic City’s unemployment is at 13.8 percent, one of the worst of any city in the nation. So much for casinos being job creators.

If the governor must have his casinos, he should keep them out of the Catskills. The region has become a spiritual refuge for thousands who vote to escape the city and its environs in the summer. If they lose that refuge to casinos, they might also cast their vote for a candidate who better understands that the natural beauty and tranquility of the Catskills is not something to be gambled with.