A roll of the dice or a strategic plan?

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently issued a modest proposal. He suggests that this might be the time to allow non-Indian groups to open gambling casinos. On its face we have yet another entry into the morality battle. But there may be more here than meets the eye.

Some Indian tribes have insisted that their treaties with the United States give them the right to do some things that stick in the craw of the U.S. government and state agencies. For example, in New York there has been a historic battle over the taxing of cigarettes. Many people addicted to smoking are always looking for a bargain so that they can get their fix. If they buy their cigarettes from Indian businesses, they get a huge discount. Increasingly, government has begun to rely on the huge taxes that they put on every cigarette. When people buy from the Indians, they do not have to pay those taxes. Several governors, including Cuomo, have said that has to stop. So far, we haven’t seen compliance on the part of the Indians despite state saber rattling over enforcing the law.

Now, all of a sudden, comes the Cuomo gambling proposal. In addition to the cigarette exclusivity enjoyed by the Indian tribes, there is also a legal right to run casinos. This is a huge source of income for some tribes and their leaders. Could it possibly be that Cuomo’s strategy is a super salvo over the tribes’ heads? Could it be that he is saying, “Give in on the cigarettes or we will dilute your gambling monopoly?”

It is pretty clear that in order for the state to allow gambling casinos, there would have to be a state constitutional amendment, and that would take a good deal of time. If that campaign actually gets rolling, there will be massive resistance. The anti-gambling community, including some religious institutions that now enjoy bingo games but don’t want anyone encroaching on their territory, will be up in arms. They will be joined by the many people who simply don’t want their communities despoiled by garish casinos attracting some folks they consider undesirable. They point to other venues that have been ruined by casinos, and they appropriately warn that the state would be abetting those with serious gambling addictions.

Of course, arguments can be made by those who believe in the legalization of gambling. They point out that because some very unsavory folks have been running huge gambling operations and organized crime has been making a fortune from gambling, if gambling was legal, then the government could tax them as they tax cigarettes, but the money would then be in the state’s pockets. We know that if gambling were legal, the government could tax it just as it taxes cigarettes.

As for Cuomo, anyone who doesn’t believe that the White House is in his mind’s eye had better take a reality pill. Along with his view that there should be no new taxes comes his responsibility to raise revenue to run government. If he can do that in New York, he would be in a powerful position to argue that he could do the same thing nationally.

He has a lot going for him. Americans love to gamble, and they will do it legally or illegally. He could set up funds to deal with those with gambling addictions. He could argue that some governments that have been dealing with the lack of jobs would be helped by establishing casinos. Places that once boasted grand summer hotels would be reinvigorated and jobs would be created. People who drive over the Connecticut and New Jersey borders to gamble would spend their money at home.

Of course, there is a limit on all of this. Reports of tough times for gambling emporiums are all over the place. If you have ever walked into one of these places, you are confronted with an eerie feeling. Ask yourself this: Would you want a gambling casino in your town? Hey, I know that I wouldn’t. Which side are you on?

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/15/11

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One Comment on “A roll of the dice or a strategic plan?”

  1. Richard Midwood Says:

    Very interesting article! Regarding the cigarette tax issue I know someone in Mass. who ordered “tax free” cigarettes from a New York reservation(Seneca) and later received a tax bill from the state of Mass. Not so free after all! Regarding the casino issue, I wonder if the “boon” of tax revenue would actually live up to expectations. There’s always so many costs that come along. By the way,a great article in the Sat. Berkshire Eagle on Obama. That really summed up the situation for me in a nutshell. Thanks.

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