With the discussion of building a casino in Coney Island, the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared” comes to mind. Mention casino gambling and most people see dollar signs. There is good reason. In 2010-2011 New York State took in $3.1 billion from state sponsored gambling. Opening a casino in Coney Island would mean more jobs, additional business opportunities and increased city and state revenue, as well as another recreational option for New Yorkers.
As Chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which has jurisdiction over problem gambling, I know that with all the benefits of casino gambling, and there are many, come problems. I mention this not to damper enthusiasm, but rather as a precaution to make certain that if casino gambling does come to our community, we have everything in place to prevent problem gambling.
As real as casino gambling is as a source of enjoyment for those who know their limits and gamble within their means, it can become a plague for those who succumb to its lure. New York State already has one million problem gamblers. As large as this number is, the negative impact is larger when the problem gambler’s family, friends and employer are all counted in.
According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, gambling addictions increase by approximately 10% within a 50 mile radius of casinos and bankruptcy rates are about 18% higher. This issue affects everyone, as University of Georgia researchers pointed out, a problem gambler costs society $13,586; other studies put that figure as high as $52,000 annually. Add to this a myriad of public health problems including drug addiction, domestic violence, divorce, child abuse, suicide attempts, and crime and it is obvious why I want the problems caused by casino gambling included in the same discussions as the benefits. We must be prepared.
Coney Island is a valuable resource. Its iconic image as a seaside resort could very well be enhanced if a casino is built on its shore. The thought of a new casino conjures up the positive images of fun, games and profits. Tens of thousands of gamblers will play the casino’s games and the overwhelming percentage will do so within limits and this is good. However, Coney Island may not be the best choice for a casino in New York City because of its close proximity to surrounding residential neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn and its possible effect on residents. In addition, I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t ask those who are planning for additional casinos throughout New York State to factor into their plans provisions to prevent compulsive gambling and funding for treatment programs for those gamblers who do lose control.
With visions of increased revenues, some top a billion dollars, there is no discussion of dedicating a percentage of the profits to compulsive gambling prevention initiatives and bolstering existing problem gambling treatment programs. We can’t take the gamble on providing more gaming venues without increasing prevention and treatment programs. This necessitates an investment by the State. New York is the only state without dedicated funding from gambling revenues for problem gambling services. It would be irresponsible to continue down the path toward additional casinos without planning and funding the programs necessary to safeguard New Yorkers from the problems of compulsive gambling.
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz represents Brooklyn’s 45th Assembly District, which includes parts of Sheepshead Bay, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Midwood, and Brighton Beach. His community office is located at 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road.