What Some People Call Progress

As New Yorkers struggle to put the coronavirus pandemic behind them, or at least learn to live with it, some would like to invite in yet another plague of devastating proportions.

No, we’re not talking about setting up a Wuhan Lab extension to conduct gain-of-function experiments in midtown Manhattan. Even those who still think the coronavirus came from a bat wouldn’t take such a chance.

Yet, local officialdom now seems inclined to open the doors to another serious public health hazard: They want to expand casino gambling into New York City. Times Square in Manhattan and Citi Field in Queens are high on the list of potential venues.

Governor Kathy Hochul has endorsed a proposal to cancel the moratorium on the opening of casinos until 2023 and allow bidding for licenses for three casinos to operate downstate this year.

The casino giants are crowding to get in on the action. No fewer than nine big casino operators are currently engaged in intense lobbying efforts in Albany to push the idea through, according to a report in Politico.

The would-be purveyors of this plague also include ostensibly responsible members of society, including elected officials, labor unions and real-estate firms, all eager to cash in on the vulnerability and the future misery of people who become addicted and gamble away their life savings, destroying livelihoods, lives and whole families in the process.

Ironically, rather than fleeing from it like the plague it is, the introduction of casino gambling in New York City has been touted by as a paved-with-gold road to economic recovery.

“I believe in New York City. I think we are going to come back. Gaming has a proven potential to be an anchor in that recovery,” Soo Kim, chair of the Bally’s Corp., was quoted as saying by Politico.

“We are ready to deliver thousands of new jobs for Westchester and the Bronx while generating $1 billion in new economic activity with a full gaming license,” MGM, another eager entrant in the bidding competition, said in a statement.

The licenses could bring upward of $750 million into the state treasury, lawmakers say.

In reality, the economic benefits of casinos are largely chimerical. Once construction is completed, the jobs provided are generally low paying, barely above minimum wage and not the kind to generate an urban revival.

The National Bureau of Economic Research calculated in 2002 that the amount spent on legalized gambling matched a decline in consumer spending on other goods and services. For example, the California’s Grocers Association found that consumer spending on groceries dropped 7% after the state instituted a lottery.

As Hamodia commented at the time of New York’s 2013 referendum, “In other words, legalized gambling doesn’t create wealth, but merely shifts it elsewhere. The odds are that the net gain to the state will be zero. And sometimes the net gain to a state is even less than zero.”

While the benefits are less than meets the eye, the harm caused can be quite visible and gruesome. As State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, said: “My concern, representing Manhattan and Times Square is the neighborhoods which would be adjacent to any proposed casino and the impact. Casinos can have negative externalities, to put it mildly.”

To put it more bluntly, what happened in Atlantic City — where the casino environs became a crime-ridden landscape replete with burned-out buildings, shuttered storefronts and homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes — could happen here too.

Then there is the argument that you can’t stop “progress.” This is thought to be the clincher. Whether it’s an expressway that will uproot whole neighborhoods, or the internet, or whatever is the latest style in immorality, the catchphrase has the aura of unanswerability, like a law of nature. So learn to stop worrying about casinos, and cash in with the rest of us.

State Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, knows this: “It’s going to happen soon enough anyway. If we’re ready to do it and all the infrastructure is in place and the regulatory structure is in place, why not do it sooner?”

But more certain than any of the oversold benefits to society from casinos are the grim social consequences. Legalized gambling has a well-established track record; the human devastation it causes is not a possibility but a certainty.

“Compulsive gambling is a highly destructive addiction,” Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., z”l, the noted psychiatrist and world-renowned expert on addictions would say.

“The person will do anything to feed his addiction, stealing and embezzling or committing credit-card fraud. He becomes a compulsive liar. Although he may love his family, he will take the bread from their mouths and sell the roof over their heads. He has no control.”

About 2% of Americans, roughly 6.6 million people, suffer from gambling addiction, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Furthermore, it is not as if there aren’t sufficient opportunities for gambling in the New York area.

New York just became the largest sports betting market in America, as the state took in over $1.6 billion worth of sports bets, according to figures released Friday by the New York State Gaming Commission.

Now the casinos are waving their bulging wallets at us, beckoning to more progress, to casinos in New York City.

But this is a kind of progress that can, and should be, stopped. The price for it is much too high.

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