New York needs to learn gambling’s cost

At the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York has vastly expanded legal gambling options. The state government bet that the benefits — tax revenue and boosting the economies of struggling upstate areas — would be huge and that the costs … well, the Cuomo administration didn’t talk about those very much, but the idea was that they would be minimal.

And the biggest cost, as we see it, is a potential increase in problem gambling and the human damage that goes with that.

Yet the Times Union of Albany reports that the casinos have generated much less tax revenue than was promised — and more disturbing, that the Cuomo administration has not even counted the cost. The state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services has not assessed problem gambling in New York since 2006, three governors before Cuomo.

The new casinos have been with us for several years now, plenty long enough to assess whether or not they have corresponded with an increase in problem gambling.

So many casinos were added that they seem to have saturated the market, as evidenced by the recent closure of a video lottery hall at the Monticello Casino and Raceway in Sullivan County.

Such “racinos” were one of the state’s prior efforts to expand gambling. So was allowing daily fantasy sports.

And much more may be on the way, with the U.S. Supreme Court opening the door to states allowing sports betting. Rules for betting on pro and college games in New York may be in the works.

The new casinos didn’t affect people very much in the North Country since none of them were built up here, but sports betting would bring gambling right into local homes, literally. It can be very addictive, and a household with one gambling addict can suddenly find itself drained of money, or even a house and car. Obviously that doesn’t happen all the time, just as drinking alcohol doesn’t always lead to alcoholism, but families would need to watch for warning signs more keenly if our state legalize sports betting.

Gambling, especially the kind one does from home, can be very quiet. It’s easy for someone not to know one’s own spouse or other family member has a problem until it is too late. Likewise, it is easy for our state government not to realize it has a problem — especially when it stops assessing the issue as it once did.

We urge OASAS, under Gov. Cuomo, to once again study the scope of gambling’s damage on New Yorkers, and we urge state policy makers to take those costs — as well as benefits — into account as they consider New York’s gambling regulations going forward.