Niagara Gazette

October 15, 2013

CONFER: Proposition 1 is a losing bet

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Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — This November there will be six statewide propositions on New York ballots. Over the next three weeks, I will give you the background – and my two cents – on each, so you can go to the polls prepared to make an informed decision rather than being caught off guard by what’s on the screen before you.

The first of the ballot items is also the most well-known and, for some, the most controversial of the bunch. Prop 1 would allow for the creation of seven casinos across the state, including four upstate.

Gov. Cuomo and company believe the gambling resorts will be the panacea for what ails our moribund economy, so much so that they worded the official ballot text in an overly positive (I would say manipulative) way, indicating the casinos would serve the “… purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated.”

As a libertarian, I am not offended by casinos or the act of gambling — it’s a free country, people can do with their hard-earned dollars what they darn well please, even if it consists of giving it to “the House.”

Even so, I will be voting against the measure. I disagree wholeheartedly with the belief that it will benefit the economy.

A casino doesn’t create wealth like a mine, farm, factory or department store does. It takes it away from participants and gives them nothing in return. There is no product created, no actual service rendered. Gambling is a wealth transfer, a sort of tax or penalty on the poor (who are hoping for the best in an effort to get out of their financial situation) and the very rich (high rollers with money to blow) with the casino and state coffers as the beneficiaries.

In the absence of a casino, an individual’s discretionary dollars would be spent on services, food and goods, rather than being thrown away. Every one of those economic transactions has measurable economic benefit, especially when it comes to the purchase of farmed or manufactured goods because they have a multiplier effect – getting that one item to market required acquisition and transformation of resources, transportation, packaging, marketing and sales. Numerous facets of the economy are involved. Casinos can’t claim that and it’s likely that they have a negative effect on the economy.

Look no further than Niagara Falls. Wasn’t the Indian-run casino supposed to be the catalyst that turned around the dying city and made it an American version of Niagara Falls, Ont.? Take a walk around the American side (that is, if you feel safe doing so) – the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel is a jewel surrounded by blight, crime, and depression. It has done nothing to excite development and, if anything, it has made the poor poorer in the city limits.

Niagara Falls, Ont., has embarrassed us because they saw their casino(s) as one piece of the puzzle (not the cure-all like we did) and understood the need for smart development, tourism, and the maintenance of critical green space. It was a package deal overseen by really bright people in the public and private sectors.

Maybe that’s who we’re lacking. Our state officials are using casinos as a crutch, a revenue grab, since they don’t have the intellect or backbone to make measurable and lasting cuts to spending (like Medicaid).

Those same shysters are also trying to sell us on the concept that property taxes will be lowered because of the casinos (allegedly 80 percent of state tax revenues from the casinos will go to elementary and secondary schools statewide). Generations before me heard the same about lottery gaming when it was introduced. I don’t know about you, but despite these windfalls, my school taxes go by an appreciable amount annually ($169 in this year alone). I guarantee they will yet still, even if Proposition 1 passes.

Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer