Community Reacts to Plans For Casino in Orange County

In November of 2013, the citizens of New York voted by a margin of 57% to approve a constitutional amendment that would expand casino gambling in this State. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fierce advocate of the proposal, was delighted.  He and others felt this to be a solution of sorts to help bolster the economies of some of the troubled areas in upstate New York that are currently struggling. So casino gambling will be coming to New York State. This much is clear. The question that remains now is where these casinos will be built.  The State Gaming Commission will award four permits for casinos in the upstate area this year. Among the areas being considered for approval are five locations in Orange County, in the towns of New Windsor, Newburgh, Tuxedo, South Blooming Grove and Woodbury. For many of us in the Orthodox community, that’s too close for comfort.Proposals in the villages of Woodbury and South Blooming Grove are within close proximity to the communities of Monsey and New Square, and of course just minutes away from Kiryas Joel in Monroe. It’s not difficult to imagine that a large gaming casino in these areas can wreak havoc on these peaceful idyllic communities. The Village of Kiryas Joel recently released a powerful resolution, stating its opposition to the proposed casinos.

“The operation of such gambling casinos,” it reads, “is directly adverse to the peaceable family- and child-oriented culture of the residents of Kiryas Joel.”

The resolution cites several compelling reasons to reconsider the project, including inadequate water supplies, adverse traffic conditions, and environmental concerns.  Says Gedalya Szegedin, Village Administrator, “The resolution speaks for itself.”

We  acknowledge the fact that casinos in New York State are a fait accompli. But we respectfully ask the Governor of this great State to reconsider the choice of these locations. Governor Cuomo has proven on more than one occasion that he has the best interests of the children of New York at heart. Now we request that he consider the moral interests of  these children as well.  He no doubt realizes the potential for moral devastation that a casino in the neighborhood can have on impressionable young children. As a friend of the Jewish community, Governor Cuomo  has been sympathetic to our needs and understanding of our concerns on many occasions. We  trust that he will recognize our deep reservations on this issue as well.

New York is a very big state, and there are plenty of areas that are vastly more suitable for these casinos. In fact, studies have shown that rural areas that are sparsely populated present better and more appropriate options for a casino venue. Orange County is already a bustling and busy area, and there is significant traffic on its roads already. Why add more stress to an infrastructure that is already stretched to capacity when there are places that could benefit greatly by the increased activity?

It’s not just the Jewish community that’s opposed to the casino proposal in Orange County. Other citizens of the area are also apprehensive and concerned. They see the handwriting on the wall. They are well aware of the fact that casinos generally usher in a wide range of social issues including gambling addiction, crime, and the steady decline of quality of life in the neighborhood. The so-called economic gains are in fact fleeting. Construction jobs are temporary and long-term employment often is offered to outsiders who don’t even live in the area. Ultimately, it all boils down to short-term economic gain versus long-term social problems. Why would anyone want to deal with that?

The New York Post and The New York Times rarely agree on anything. But they do stand united on the issue at hand. In recent op-ed pages, both publications strongly opposed the proposed gambling casinos in Orange County. They understand the possible repercussions. One need not travel too far to see what may be in store for us in the future. The unfortunate conditions that exist today in Atlantic City speak for themselves. That town is called “The City in Crisis.” Unemployment there stands at 18% and the crime rate is fully three times greater than the surrounding area.

Take a good look at what may one day be waiting for us in Orange County. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

Rabbi Chaim Israel is a community activist with 37 years of experience as director of housing, management and development with the Southern Brooklyn Community Organization.