Analysis: Andrew Cuomo's Gamble

He made clear in his state of the state message that he believes the time has come to legalize casino gambling by a constitutional amendment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is placing a big bet -- on being able to change New York state’s fundamental policy on gambling. He thinks the odds are pretty good.

He made clear in his state of the state message this week that he believes the time has come to legalize casino gambling by a constitutional amendment.

It seems ironic that the state of New York also supports an agency called the Council on Problem Gambling.

But it does. And the goal of this 17-year-old organization is to help people who become victims of gambling -- and need help to treat their problem.

Jim Maney, executive director of the group, says there’s nothing inconsistent about his organization’s goals and the governor’s program. He points out that the gambling issue needs a comprehensive approach.

Gambling can become a “progressive disorder,” Maney told me. “It can cause all kinds of hardships, ruining individuals and families, and businesses. We’re not for or against gambling but we want to make sure that we address the horrible problems that gambling can create.”

Cuomo says that, when it comes to casino gambling, “we are living in a state of denial.” There are already racinos and tribal casinos all over the state, he asserted, and it was time to recognize that reality, amend the constitution and get the jobs back to be competitive with other states.

Can gambling become a compulsive disorder? Is it immoral for the state to be promoting it? 

No matter the answer to those questions, it seems that political expediency is in the air.

Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College told me: “My sense of it is that, if we put the issue to a referendum, people are going to vote in favor of gambling rather than lose out to competitors like New Jersey and Connecticut. It’s the fiscally prudent thing to do.”

Dick Dadey of Citizens Union said his group didn’t have a position on the issue. But, speaking personally, he thought “the governor’s position reflects reality. The horse is out of the barn. People are gambling.”

“It will forever be a moral issue. But it may be good for the economy. It is a perplexing question, and even though it’s here, it still deserves a full discussion. We cannot treat it lightly.”

Cuomo is gambling on the gamblers. One wonders whether this governor has debated the issue with a previous governor -- his father, Mario Cuomo.

In a 1994 book, ”The New York Idea"  Mario Cuomo said his reasons for opposing casino gambling were based on religious, personal, civic and economic reasons. “There is a respectable body of economic thought that holds that casino gambling is actually economically regressive to a state and a community.”

The present governor told the Daily News  that “the economic boost from casino gambling far outweighs the increase in crime and compulsive gambling and other social ills that critics say the industry fosters.”

So which Cuomo do we believe? Perhaps they’re both right -- or maybe they just think they are. And, ultimately, it will be up to the voters to decide.

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