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Gambling Boom or Gambling Doom?

Gambling Boom or Gambling Doom?

Originally published June 8, 2012


Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret” ~ from the musical Cabaret.

We seem to have an increasingly hybrid blend of pagans, atheists, anarchists and Libertarians that are fighting for everything to be legalized and government to disappear. Meanwhile, government is overtly sneaking into every aspect of our lives.

At home, we are overwhelmed with news reports and advertising – educating us and luring us into every kind of lasciviousness and perverse behavior there is. The Green Lantern Super Hero is hailed and welcomed as a gay role model for children. People are eating flesh off live victims in Florida after the CDC warned of a “Zombie Apocalypse.” The New York Times #1 bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey, has been dubbed “mommy porn” and incorporates bondage, submission, and sado-masochism; things regular “moms” want to read about. Certainly these are not comparable to each other, but each is shocking to traditional moral senses in their own way.

What came first, the moral decay or the financial decay? History, like the Weimar Republic, suggests they are congruent.

In New York, like many other states, we’ve watched solid businesses and manufacturers that flourished for more than a half century go out of business under the weight of an anti-Capitalist President. In their stead, we get Marla’s Psychic Readings and Tarot Card Café and The Scream tattoo parlor.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government is urging more States to give in to a temptation many have resisted during past financial crises: Gambling.

Just before Christmas 2011, the Department of Justice released a 13 page legal opinion redefining the 1961 Wire Act. The act was originally created to bar wagers made using telecommunications that cross state lines or international borders. Basically the Obama administration gave States the right to legalize all betting that did not involve a “sporting event or contest.” In a move so predictable you could have won money on it, increasingly desperate, cash-strapped States were turned loose in the dog park to undertake even more unscrupulous means of raising funds, now with the encouragement of the Feds.

(One can’t help but think fondly of Captain Renault, who at least tried to convey a pretense of scruples while pretending to be shocked at gambling in Rick’s Café.)


NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, already foaming at the mouth to use the Internet and out-of-state transaction processors to sell lottery tickets to in-state adults, was thrilled with the DOJ opinion. According to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C., New York saw a larger exodus of residents than any other state between the years 2000-2010. This resulted in a loss of an estimated $45.6 billion in income in the state.

Additionally, for the past thirty years, New York has had the 2nd highest State and local tax burden in the country. Obviously this is not all the current Governor’s fault, but his actions so far have been the equivalent of holding an already drowning victim’s head under water.

Earlier this year, New York State approved a constitutional amendment to expand the number of statewide casinos. Seven more casinos are proposed to be built on non-Indian lands, and the amendment will probably get put to New York voters in November 2013. Paving the way for what appears to be a planned takeover of the entire New York gaming industry, Cuomo has already taken control of the New York Racing Association (NYRA) Board. Swooping in like a hawk on an injured rabbit, Cuomo has accused the Board of failure to comply with changes to the State’s tax laws. Already muddied by fraud and conspiracy charges in recent years, it was a perfect time to train his talons for the kill. Additionally, NYRA lost any public sympathy with accusations of horse mistreatment and suspicious deaths. The Governor now has control over the NYRA for the next three years, giving him ample room to further institutionalize the gaming industry at the state level, robbing his own citizens of their already overtaxed paychecks.

Talk of putting racinos in residential suburban areas is actually being welcomed by residents who have been completely brainwashed into believing that lotteries and gambling are a good solid source of revenue and jobs. It seems not long ago we actually considered creating a product or providing a service the preferred way to make money. How dreadfully dated.

According to Sam Skolnik in his book, High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction, many states are following the model of South Dakota. The story of Deadwood, SD is a success story to some, and a tale of destruction to others. Since South Dakotans amended their constitution to allow gambling in Deadwood twenty years ago, the state has now become more dependent on its gambling revenue than any other state but Nevada. While outlining the fiscal benefits of gambling for the state, like raising millions for elementary schools and universities, Skolnik also points to studies and statistics that show a substantial increase in “Gamblers Anonymous” Chapters, personal and business bankruptcies, reported child abuse and neglect, suicides and overall criminal activity. Two decades since gambling legalization, Skolnik said many in South Dakota are hooked on gambling, including the state itself which, according to one official, “wouldn’t be able to make it” without gambling revenues.

The biggest industry earner is the state lottery of course, propagated by the installation of over 9000 video lottery terminals, the proceeds of which go mostly toward reducing property taxes. Who could be against that?

Property taxes are a main theme in a new radio commercial in New York State as well. Additionally, The New York Gaming commercial called “Bells” tells us that “if full gaming is authorized at New York’s nine racetrack casinos,” that will “pay the salary for 18,000 new teachers.” One wonder’s if the new teachers shouldn’t introduce new classes like “Handicapping 101.” However, doing so would only give students an advantage, and the schools only make money when gamblers lose.

From sea to shining sea, the gambling masquerade of what some call “taxing the poor” (state lotteries and casinos/racinos) is being layered with greasepaint and shoved out onto the wobbling economic stage. Like Joel Grey as the Master of Ceremonies, we are becoming increasingly enchanted with its immoral promise of quick and dirty satisfaction. It is a source of revenue based on nothing, just like the money our government keeps printing.

(originally appeared on

Update: June 2013 – Governor Cuomo Announces Agreement on the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act: