Casinos in the Catskills? No Dice

Last year, 57% of New Yorkers voted in favor of a proposal to construct seven new casinos in the state. Several economically depressed areas in upstate New York State, including the Catskills, are slated to see construction of the new casinos.

Ever since manufacturing jobs dried up in upstate New York, elected officials have been dreaming of casinos as a way to revitalize the region economically. But casinos offer no dream solution to economic woes; they are more of a nightmare, if anything.

Our primary opposition to casinos is on religious and societal grounds. Like drugs, gambling is an addiction that takes over gamblers’ lives, ravaging them and their families. It stands in diametrical opposition to a life based on Torah, emunah and self-discipline. On a societal level, casinos are hosts and carriers of social diseases that any civilized society seeks to eradicate for self preservation.

We urged voters to vote against the proposal last year. Unfortunately the measure passed, but it’s becoming ever clearer that casino construction will not, in the long run, bring an economic boom to its host area. Instead, it will bring more grief: more crime, more addiction, and yes, even more unemployment.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see what the future of communities will be once casinos take root in them. All it takes is to read the grim news that has been coming out of Atlantic City lately. In only the past several months, three major Atlantic City casinos have gone kaput. Atlantic City started 2014 with 12 casinos; by the end of the year it will have eight.

Of course every industry has churn, as non-competitive companies close and new, more competitively nimble ones open. But it’s apparent that the casino business in the New York metro area is a saturated market, where the demand for casinos is much lower than the supply. Moody’s Investment Service, in a report discouraging new casino development in New York, stated that Atlantic City’s casino revenue has been in a tailspin since 2006, lower by 44% from its peak.

Proponents of New York casinos claim that Atlantic City’s gambling resorts are tired and not state-of-the-art and don’t offer the kind of pampering that up-scale vacation-goers are looking for in resorts. If that is true, why did the fanciest one close? A spectacular $2.5 billion glass monument soaring 57 stories, the second-tallest building in New Jersey, the minute it opened it began hemorrhaging money; it never made a dime, and after just two years is a vacant skyscraper that no one wants to buy — not even for a fraction of its original cost (MGM reportedly declined to buy it for $250 million). At the time of its bankruptcy, it was estimated to be worth $450 million. But not only the owners were big losers in the shuttering of the casino: New Jersey taxpayers had been talked into providing $261 million in tax incentives to subsidize the gambling resort.

At the time of the state’s investment in the casino, New Jersey’s governor gave taxpayers the same sales pitch we are hearing today from New York’s: more jobs, an economic renaissance. In 2012 Christie predicted that the casino would be a “turning point” for Atlantic City. Instead, the shutdown threw 3,100 workers onto the unemployment rolls. And this was only one of four casinos to close.

Even in the unlikely case that New York casinos are profitable in and of themselves, study after study has shown the collateral damage legalized gambling inflicts on communities that house them. Where casinos go, crime is sure to follow. One recent study found an average of an 8 percent hike in everything from auto theft to crimes of violence. Higher crime translates into residents spending more on security and police.

Building more casinos is a form of cruelty to the addicted or those prone to addiction. Unfortunately, Baylor University researcher Earl Grinols found that 52% of casino revenues come from gambling addicts. So while politicians see legalized gambling as a glittering cash cow, they are, in effect taking the money from the addicted, making sick people sicker. Opening casinos and luring those who can’t act rationally makes as much sense as opening a liquor superstore next to an alcohol rehabilitation center.

The pro-gambling lobby and the politicians they influence have picked the Catskills, of all places, as one of the choice sites for casinos. The Catskills, with its pristine lakes, primeval forests, and family-style attractions, is one of the crown jewels of the state, a region where thousands go to enjoy the peace and serenity they find nowhere else. Casinos will irreparably destroy the summer and winter wonderland that is the Catskills. Casinos are a losing bet for New Yorkers.