Mayor Michael Bloomberg has never been a big fan of casino expansion in New York City. When the proposal for a casino at Willets Point recently surfaced, his administration quickly shot it down, saying it had been dismissed months earlier. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the first phase of any casino expansion would be exclusively in upstate New York, the mayor wasn’t disappointed, saying a casino might not even be “appropriate” in New York City.
But if Las Vegas-style casino gambling is legalized in New York at the end of this year, Bloomberg will be out of office during the siting process and won’t have a role in whether the city allows any casinos or where one or more might be located. So where do his potential successors stand on the issue?
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Democratic front-runner for mayor in recent polls, called gambling a “regressive way to raise revenue” and said she was concerned about the impact compulsive gambling has on families. Nevertheless, she said that if the state legalizes gambling, the city should at least consider allowing a casino to open.
“If the State of New York decides to legalize gambling, then I believe we in New York City should determine whether or not to have gambling in the five boroughs,” Quinn said. “I am very sympathetic to the position that the state Legislature and the governor are in. We in local government certainly understand, having done many more rounds of budget cuts than any of us would have wanted to do, so I don’t fault our partners in state government for exploring every possible option.”
How much control local cities and communities will have in deciding whether to allow a casino is still up in the air. Cuomo said in his State of the State address this year that municipalities would be able to weigh in, but has offered few specifics about what that means. Meanwhile, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are grumbling over what they feel is a lack of input in the process.
The stakes are highest in New York City, at least in terms of potential profits. While opponents say casinos are an unsavory way to boost the state’s economy, proponents say the city should get a piece of the pie, considering its large population, its attractiveness to tourists and the fact that the city already hosts a highly profitable racetrack casino, or racino, in Queens.
The governor has been careful not to rule out a downstate casino. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also touted potential casino locations in New York City, not anywhere close to residential neighborhoods like downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan but in areas like Willets Point in Queens or Coney Island in Brooklyn.
The current Republican front-runner for mayor, former MTA chairman Joe Lhota, is more supportive of the city housing a casino, pointing to Resorts World Casino New York City in Southeast Queens as a prime example of the local demand for one, even though it’s a more limited racino.
“The success that Resorts World has had down at Aqueduct Racetrack has happened because they have good mass transit, they have great parking, and it’s not really that close to a particular neighborhood,” Lhota said. “There has not been an increase in crime at the facility or near the facility, so I think if [a casino is] properly placed and properly controlled, it will work out.”
New York City Comptroller John Liu, a likely Democratic candidate, acknowledged the short-term benefits that casinos can provide to the state’s economy, but said he was concerned that people would gamble away their life savings if a casino were located close to a residential neighborhood.
“Perhaps we can find a place within the five boroughs, but not something that is so accessible that individuals can go on a daily basis,” Liu said. “Some people have suggested Governors Island, and that might be less harmful a place to have a casino within the five boroughs while still being able to reap the economic benefits that other states are reaping from city residents who insist on gambling anyway.”
Adolfo Carrión, the Independence Party nominee, echoed Liu’s insistence on keeping a casino away from residential neighborhoods and proposed taking advantage of the city’s waterfront for a potential casino site. Tom Allon, a Republican candidate and the CEO of Manhattan Media (the parent company of City & State), said that government should not be in the gaming business because of the destabilizing effect it can have on families and neighborhoods. Other candidates, like former city comptroller Bill Thompson, a Democrat, would only say that New York City voters should have a voice in determining where one is located. New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, declined to comment. Republican candidates John Catsimatidis and George McDonald did not respond to interview requests.
It remains to be seen whether casinos in New York City would have much of an effect on the state’s economy. Resorts World contributes 44 percent of its profits to state education funding and has placed a premium on hiring locally for the 1,700 permanent jobs it created. Resorts World has also donated $500,000 to local charities and nonprofit organizations.
Still, there is some concern that people will simply shift their recreational budgets from other leisure activities to gambling, meaning a potential revenue gain for the state might not be as large as some are touting.
“I think in the long run the idea that total household income is going to shape how much is spent on entertainment is correct, but those adjustments don’t necessarily take place automatically, and especially in a market as large as New York,” said Hugh O’Neill, the president of Appleseed, a New York-based consulting firm, and the former deputy secretary for economic development under governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. “In the meantime you’ve given a significant boost to the economy at a time where I think we clearly need it.”
Tags: Adolfo Carrion, Andrew Cuomo, Bill De Blasio, Bill Thompson, casino, Christine Quinn, Coney Island, constitutional amendment, George McDonald, Hugh O’Neill, joe lhota, John Catsimatidis, John Liu, Las Vegas, Michael Bloomberg, Resorts World, Sheldon Silver, State of the State, Tom Allon, Willets Point