"Casino Boom Pinches Northeastern States."
That was the headline on a Wall Street Journal story last week. There are now so many casinos and racetrack racinos in this region that their owners are pleading for help, the Journal said. And state governments are worrying as a big source of tax revenue shrinks.
And is anybody surprised?
"More casinos have opened in the Northeast over the past decade than in any other part of the country," said the Journal, "and the expansion is causing upheaval in the region. States that adopted gambling earlier than their neighbors, such as Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia, are watching dollars drain away, and new projects have some wondering how many facilities the area can support."
And more are on the way. According to the Journal, 12 more are planned in the area from Massachusetts to Maryland. And I'm not sure that counts the four that New York voters approved last November.
A recent Fitch Ratings report described our market as "reaching a saturation point," said the Journal.
But so what? This is private enterprise. Competition is good. If we build too many casinos, if some casinos are bigger and better than others, if some win and others lose, who cares, except the losers and their investors?
The problem, of course, is that other people do lose. They lose jobs. And the municipalities and counties hosting the casinos get hurt, too. Their budgets, which counted on casino tax revenue, are now out of whack, forcing cuts in government services. In some cases, the casinos got tax breaks to help them get off the ground. If the casinos don't succeed, the taxes the governments thought they'd get eventually won't materialize.
And guess what else: Some of the casinos that are fighting competition are now asking for tax cuts.
But never mind all that. New York's governor and state legislature look at the casinos in other states and see visions of wealth. I thought they were wrong when they were pushing the casinos, and I still think they're wrong.
The deck is stacked. And the fix is in. But our governor and his fellow gamblers are ignoring the odds. The lure of easy money is just too great to resist.
On another note: Ain't politics wonderful?
It's been fascinating to watch State Senator Ted O'Brien, who is in a tough fight to hang onto his seat. O'Brien's district includes Democrat-leaning Irondequoit and part of Rochester but also some Republican suburbs. And his opponent is a Republican with huge name recognition: former WHEC anchor Rich Funke.
We might have expected O'Brien, a solid Democrat, to be a strong supporter of progressive legislation like college funding for children of undocumented immigrants and college classes for prison inmates. But he was one of a handful of Democrats who sided with Republicans and killed those bills.
O'Brien found a way to explain his votes: He's representing the will of the people in his diverse district, he said.
While I wish O'Brien had been a leader in those votes instead of a poll-watcher, few politicians have the luxury of ignoring voter sentiment. We need to judge elected officials' entire record, not snippets of it. Another O'Brien move has me wondering where his head is at, though.
Rich Funke is no longer on the evening news. But he's still on television, in ads promoting Piehler car dealerships. The ads are strictly business: no politics, no mention of Funke's candidacy. But the O'Brien campaign says they're a form of campaign advertising, and it wants them taken off the air.
Few of us are surprised at much of anything in politics these days, but this is a real curiosity. I've stopped counting the number of O'Brien promo pieces I'm getting at home. They're not "ads." They're "reports" from my state senator, mailed, using legislators' franking privilege, courtesy of the taxpayers.
O'Brien doesn't like the Piehler ads, but he has no problem, apparently, having the public fund part of his campaigning.