Editorial: A Smart Gamble

Should anybody, particularly anybody of modest means, spend hours pouring quarters into a slot machine or peeling off wads of cash at a blackjack table? Probably not.

Will they? You bet.

That’s why New Yorkers should support a change in the state Constitution that will allow developers to build up to seven glitzy new casinos in the state. Voters will be asked to give a thumb’s up or down to the proposed constitutional amendment on next month’s ballot.

New York has been too slow to adapt to more relaxed attitudes toward previously illicit forms of gaming, like slot machines, craps and table games. The last 20 years have seen an explosion of new gambling venues throughout the country—and, more to the point, in several neighboring states. New Yorkers routinely traveled elsewhere to get their gambling fix. The state hesitated in its response to this new challenge, although it eventually allowed expanding gambling at Yonkers Raceway, Aqueduct and several other venues.

Now, however, Governor Andrew Cuomo has put his credibility on the line in an attempt to win voter support for a plan that would pave the way for seven Vegas-style casinos in hard-pressed upstate, where, it seems, hard times are a way of life. The governor has played his hand shrewdly, reassuring the fears of New Jersey’s gambling interests and the Indian tribes who operate casinos on upstate reservations. Neither group has raised serious objections to the Cuomo-backed plan.

Mr. Cuomo hopes the casinos will create jobs in places that have yet to recover from the recession of the early 1980s, never mind the several recessions that have followed. He’s also counting on an additional $1 billion per year in tax revenue, which would help pay for cuts in other tax burdens.

The measure’s supporters in the governor’s office and the state legislature have not been subtle in their efforts to win support for the constitutional change. They worded the measure to make it sound like a sales pitch rather than a legalistic ballot question. Who could oppose a ballot question dedicated to “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools and permitting local governments to lower property taxes”?

Of course, the issue is far more complicated. But you don’t have to approve of gambling to recognize that New York has to compete with surrounding states that have jumped on the casino bandwagon. It may not be the best solution to the state’s fiscal woes, but it’s worth the gamble.