Meetings & Information


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rivers Casino challenge to slots tax highlights big checks Pa. casinos have been writing

Slot machine tax challenged by Rivers Casino
Every day, 2 percent of the cash earned by every slot machine at Rivers Casino goes to the city of Pittsburgh. In 2015, that amounted to $5.5 million. But it wasn’t nearly enough. At the end of the year, the North Shore casino cut a check for another $4.5 million to hand over to the city — representing the difference between what its slot machines produced and the minimum $10 million that Pittsburgh is entitled to annually under state gambling law.

Rivers Casino challenge to slots tax highlights big checks Pa. casinos have been writing

Every day, 2 percent of the cash earned by every slot machine at Rivers Casino goes to the city of Pittsburgh. In 2015, that amounted to $5.5 million. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
At the end of the year, the North Shore casino cut a check for another $4.5 million to hand over to the city — representing the difference between what its slot machines produced and the minimum $10 million that Pittsburgh is entitled to annually under state gambling law.
Rivers Casino is no exception.
Last year, eight other casinos in the state ponied up anywhere from $2.4 million to $7.6 million in “true-up” payments to cover the difference between what their slot machines produced for local municipalities and the minimum $10 million they are required to pay their communities.
The municipal portion of the local share tax, enacted when slot machine gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2004, is now the subject of legal challenges by Rivers and two other casinos — Mount Airy and Harrah’s Philadelphia.
Stakes have become high in the legal tussle — so high that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto canceled an appearance at Rivers Casino Wednesday for a Northside Chamber of Commerce event.
He felt “it is not appropriate to appear at the casino while it is making the city the subject of a lawsuit putting taxpayer funds in jeopardy,” spokesman Tim McNulty said.
Under the system being challenged, all casinos in the state are required to pay the municipal portion except those in Philadelphia and the resort casinos in Nemacolin and Valley Forge. The affected venues pay 2 percent of their gross terminal revenue if it exceeds $500 million or $10 million if it is less than that.
In its lawsuit filed last month, Holdings Acquisition Co., the Rivers Casino owner, claimed the provision “imposes unequal rates of taxation on slot machine licensees” and violates uniformity and equal protection clauses in the state and U.S. constitutions.
The law lacks uniformity, it maintained, because it ordains two tax rates on the same class of taxpayers depending on whether gross terminal revenues are above or below $500 million. That difference in treatment is “arbitrary and not rationally related to any legitimate government purpose,” Holdings argued.
Compounding the matter, at least in the eyes of Holdings, is that casinos in the city of Philadelphia pay 4 percent of their gross terminal revenue as the local share but are not subject to the $10 million minimum. Resort casinos pay 2 percent and aren’t subject to the $10 million minimum.
In the 10 years the state has been collecting the municipal share, no casino has ever exceeded the $500 million figure, meaning all have been required to write checks every year to hit the $10 million level. That’s despite the fact many would be paying much less based solely on revenues.
The way the system works is that the state collects 2 percent a day from casino slot machines and earmarks it for the municipal share. At the end of the year, the state calculates how much has been collected and how much each casino owes as a “true-up” payment to reach the $10 million.
Last year, Parx Casino, the largest in the state, shelled out the least, $2.4 million. Presque Isle in Erie, anted up the most, $7.6 million.
Rivers paid $4.5 million, while The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County paid $5.6 million.
The majority paid between $4 million to $5 million.
Christopher Craig, who helped craft the state’s gambling law as a lawyer working for former state Sen. Vincent Fumo, said the local share was added to help municipalities offset the costs, including police and infrastructure, associated with hosting a casino.
As for the 2 percent versus the $10 million, the legislature was seeking to strike a balance between the needs of the municipality and “not creating a burden” for the casino, Mr. Craig said.
The 4 percent was put in place for Philadelphia because legislators felt gross terminal revenues for casinos in that city would generate more than $10 million a year for the local share.
“People can go back 12 years and quibble with some of the public policy decisions,” Mr. Craig said. “At the end of the day, the act has been extremely successful.”
Should Rivers prevail, Pittsburgh would lose $10 million a year in revenue, though payments the past few years have been tied up in a battle with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. Rivers also is demanding about $65 million in refunds for money it paid in the past.
Pittsburgh has been using the gambling funds to prop up its ailing pension fund, as required under the Act 47 recovery plan.
If the city loses the money, it would not be able to meet that state mandate or would have to cut $10 million from “core municipal services” to do so, Mr. McNulty said. The city intends to intervene in the lawsuit.
“The local share tax payments were one of the conditions for granting the casino its license, and it never should have taken this frivolous legal action,” Mr. McNulty said.
Like the city, Denis Rudd, a professor and director of hospitality and tourism management at Robert Morris University, doesn’t think the casino has much of a beef. He said there’s definitely a cost to the municipality in hosting such a venue “and that’s the reason they get a chunk of” the revenue.
Mr. Rudd conceded $10 million is nothing to sneeze at — even for a casino like Rivers that produced $272 million in gross terminal revenue last fiscal year, 54 percent of which went for taxes, including the municipal payment. But all casinos knew going in what the cost would be, he noted.
“They agreed to it, so they should have to pay it,” he said.

Connecticut: Feds Want Embezzler Back In Prison After Gambling On Supervised Release

Patricia Baddeley Meehan

Probation officers said Patricia Baddeley Meehan almost immediately started gambling after being released from federal prison in August 2013.

Feds Want Embezzler Back In Prison After Gambling On Supervised Release


A day after a federal judge decided not to revoke Patricia Baddeley Meehan's supervised release from prison in February of 2015 and warned her not to gamble, she was playing the slots at Foxwoods Resort Casino — a pattern authorities say of her continuing to gamble while free, winning more than $51,000 in the process.
Now the federal government is asking U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill to revoke her supervised release one month before it is supposed to end and put her back in federal prison for as long as 36 months. Baddeley Meehan, 50, will appear before Underhill on Thursday.
Federal authorities also are expected to ask the judge to order her to forfeit all of the money she won playing slot machines at Foxwoods while she was on probation.
Meehan was sentenced to 46 months in a federal prison in February 2010 after pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. She admitted that, while employed as a paralegal at the Berman and Russo law firm in South Windsor, she had several credit card accounts in her name that she used for purchases and cash advances to fuel her gambling habit at various casino's.
Authorities said she stole at least $1.7 million from the law firm over a five-year period beginning in 2002.
Meehan was released from federal prison in August 2013 and began her 36 months on federal probation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

As Casino Revenues Plummet, What’s Next for Tiny Macau?

The proportion of gaming revenue from the VIP sector continued to decrease in the second quarter, while that from the mass market by contrast, has ...

As Casino Revenues Plummet, What’s Next for Tiny Macau?

A corruption crackdown in China has seen casino revenues slashed in Macau, but locals say the breakneck growth of the industry since 2003 has changed the semi-autonomous Chinese territory irrevocably

Normally, when an economy shrinks by more than 20% in a year, it means a society is collapsing. Perhaps civil war has broken out, a foreign power has invaded or a natural disaster has crippled the infrastructure.

In Macau — where gross domestic product continues to fall after about $46 billion of market value waswiped out in 2015 — all is calm. The politics in this semiautonomous Chinese territory remain nonconfrontational, impressive new hotels and overhead light rail tracks are still going up. The only visible invaders are the gaggles of selfie-stick-wielding tourists from mainland China, who pose for pictures on the black and white mosaic paving of the old city’s Senado Square, left over from Portuguese rule, which ended in 1999.
And far from fearing for their economic future, some locals are relieved that a decade or so of breakneck economic expansion appears to be over. “I’m happy to see this happen,” says Roberto Souza, a 30-year-old restaurateur. A tattoo on his left shoulder depicts the Virgin Mary; Souza is a member of the Macanese community here, the mostly Roman Catholic, mixed-race descendants of Portuguese settlers. The cosmopolitan free port of his ancestry — Souza also claims a connection to a Japanese seafarer who settled here in the Pearl River Delta way back — is fast becoming a simulacrum of mainland China, he says.
A clue to what he means is found on Souza’s other shoulder, where a banner reading “Macquista” is surrounded by images of playing cards and a roulette wheel. The gambling references are partly a reminder of his personal journey as a risk-taking entrepreneur, he explains: “It means I’m back in the game.” But the ink is also a nod to the reason for his hometown’s slide into recession: Macau’s economy is almost entirely reliant on the casinos where Chinese from the mainland do their gambling. It may bring in money for state coffers, but Souza, whose clientele comprises largely Western expatriates and Macau citizens, feels the gaming industry has corrupted his home. “The money is going into [officials’] pockets through these big projects,” he says, “It’s wasteful.” When the casinos came, “the feeling of Macau, the feeling of the neighborhood, changed very suddenly,” he says. “It’s not a place I feel like I want to stay in.”
Since 2003, when foreign casino operators were first allowed in, Macau’s gaming industry has exploded, dwarfing Las Vegas as the world’s premier gambling destination. Six firms now hold licenses to run gaming operations here, and many of those have built multiple hotels or resorts to cater to mainland China’s huge market for baccarat and other games of chance. On the back of casino revenues, GDP, just $7 billion in 2002, reached $55 billion in 2014, according to the World Bank.
What happened next exposed the foundations of this boom to be shaky, both economically and ethically. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a crackdown on graft among officials at all levels of government — both “tigers” at the top and “flies” further down. It turned out, as many already suspected, that corrupt officials looking to launder their ill-gotten cash had made up many of the high rollers visiting the casinos. When China began tightening enforcement of rules on taking money out of the mainland, casino revenues — and with them Macau’s tax base — began to disappear. Moves by regulators, also aimed at preventing the flight of capital from China, continue to squeeze Macau’s gaming sector. In June, revenues fellfor the 25th month in succession.
“It’s what we call the price you pay”
Gambling has been part of Macau since before the 1850s, when Portuguese administrators made it legal and taxable. “There’s always been gambling culture here,” says Hao Zhidong, a sociology professor at the University of Macau. There’s always been a cost, too. Hao points to local Cantonese-language poetry from the early 20th century that depicted the damage done to families by gambling addiction. But it’s only recently that Macau has become so utterly dependent on casinos, raising some tough questions. “What is a Macau identity? You’re dealing with an industry that’s really unethical. Is that how you want people to judge you?” he asks.
The rise of the casinos in the last decade precipitated a spike in problem gambling and gambling addiction. Recent statistics suggest rates have begun to subside, but studies show that casino staff are at heightened risk of gambling addiction themselves, as well as other issues related to the nature of the work. A study published by the Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health in 2013 cites a case where a female casino worker had her arm broken by a drunken gambler irate about losing. Some casino employees also report trauma from witnessing assaults, self-harm and even suicides by gamblers.
But aside from civil service jobs, there are few employment opportunities outside the casinos, says Bianca Lei, the curator of Ox Warehouse, a gallery that displays work by local artists. “Right now, nobody thinks [a casino] is not a good place to work,” she says. And yet, “Some parents even ask their children to go there and make money.” The availability of work in the gaming sector has meanwhile curbed the ambitions of many young people, she says. Property prices have also jumped beyond the reach of many. Some people born in Macau are now said to commute from cheaper areas on the mainland.
Lei says the “immoral” casinos have had a corrosive effect on society. In her work, she has looked at the spaces ignored by the city’s development, which prioritizes getting visitors to and from the casinos. The new light-rail line, for example, will deliver tourists right to the doors of the big hotels; several locals tell TIME they don’t see themselves using the trains at all. “There’s a lot of side effects,” Lei says. “In business and even [in terms of] how to think about the city, they only think, ‘we need to please the tourists.’ I don’t think that is good for the young generation.”
To the list of the gaming industry’s “side effects,” José Pereira Coutinho, probably the territory’s most outspoken lawmaker, adds “money laundering, prostitution, drugs and corruption.” A kind of Faustian pact with casino operators has led to a growing divide between rich and poor, says Coutinho, an elected leader of the Macanese community. But there’s no real choice for Macau, he says: “It’s what we call the price you pay.” And the upsides are considerable, he insists: the government’s accounts are in surplus and unemployment is negligible. As a result, public protests are rare, although young people angered by alleged corruption among Macau officials are leading a small but growing movement of dissent. A further mollifier for Macau’s populace comes in the form of an annual cash handout of just over $1,100 for every citizen. “We want people to be happy and keep their mouths shut and not demonstrate, because we don’t like that too much,” Coutinho says, with an ironic smile. “That’s the way it’s being done here in Macau, and it seems like it’s working.”
“This is not Macau anymore”
“Have a glamorous night,” says a server as he hands over an egg tart, the Portuguese-inspired sweet of choice in Macau. It’s a rare glimpse of Old Macau inside Studio City, a massive Hollywood-themed casino and hotel that, according to promotional material, “encompasses a labyrinth of pleasures.” On a visit in June, the central gaming floor buzzes with the grim tension of high-stakes card games, regularly interspersed by the electronic chirrup of slot machines dishing out their jackpots.
The development, which opened in October, is emblematic of a plan to make Macau more than just China’s giant betting shop. Macau’s currentfive-year plan targets family-friendly tourism. Lawrence Ho, the CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, the firm behind Studio City, insists there’s “potential in the mass market, supported by the increasing spending power of the Asian middle-class.” The Art Deco-styled casino features a Batman-branded virtual reality ride, and is punctured above the 23rd floor by a figure-eight aperture housing a Ferris wheel. Players can bet as little as 65 cents on the slots, and the casino currently has no VIP section. “By offering a wide variety of unique and world-class entertainment besides gaming facilities, we believe a new demand to visit Macau from a broader range of demographics, including more family visitors could be created,” Ho, whose father once owned the sole gaming license in Macau, says in a written response to TIME. Even if expectations are met, however, nongaming takings will only make up 9% of the operators’ revenues by 2020. For now, the wide corridors of Studio City, decked with upscale retail, restaurants and nightclubs are almost devoid of foot traffic. The number of Chinese visiting Macau on package tours has fallen by 36% year on year, and hotels have been slashing their room rates to keep occupancy steady.
If the plan to open up Macau’s tourism industry is to succeed, prospective visitors — who would theoretically include many more non-Chinese — need to see that there’s more to do than gamble. The Macau tourist board has begun pushing the city’s cultural heritage, producing a slick video boosting the city’s cultural sights. “[Macau’s] casino culture hides the city’s true charms,” historian Julian Davidson says in the voiceover, as a drone-mounted camera swoops between the monolithic casino buildings and over the old city‘s Ruins of St. Paul, what’s left of a church built by Jesuit missionaries. “It’s what lies beneath that tells the real story of this tiny region,” Davidson adds. At the ruins themselves, selfie-takers are out in force again, spending the very tourist patacas that the territory’s government is after. Here, the heritage remains underplayed — shops give free samples of dried meats or cookies, others sell brand-name running shoes and pharmaceuticals to mainlanders.
But successful preservation of much of the architecture has also kept in tact something of old Europe. At the nearby St. Anthony’s Church, a well-attended Sunday mass, in Portuguese, has just finished. A tour guide recounts the church’s story: the stone structure is steeped in almost half a millennium of history, including the tale that it caught fire during a devastating 1874 typhoon, acting — some say miraculously — as a lighthouse — and savior — for some of the thousands who were washed into the sea by the tempest. But the guide’s audience, visitors from China, sit slumped in the pews. One plays on a smartphone. Chan Kim-ying chides a couple for putting their feet on the kneeling rail. Chan, a church custodian and a Macau-Chinese convert to Catholicism, doubts that there’s much potential for cultural tourists from mainland China, above the current low level. “They treat it like a park because they don’t understand,” she says. Western tourists and Asian Christians from places like South Korea do come, and are more appreciative of Macau’s heritage, says Chan, “but they are only a few.” “Now they [government officials] are pushing the historical heritage,” Chan adds, “but [tourism] is still mostly just gamblers.”
Some hold out hope that Macau could play a larger role in linking China and the Lusophone world, which includes large economies like Brazil and resource-rich states like Angola. “I know that the central government in China wants Macau to be the real platform of the Portuguese-speaking countries,” says Rita Santos, a former civil servant who served as deputy secretary general of Forum Macau, an intergovernmental body that seeks to facilitate such links. “Not so many very rich VIPs are coming to Macau,” she says, “so now is a great time for the government to think: What is our plan for the diversification of the economy in Macau?” In a sign, perhaps, of some movement on this front, a growing contingent of young Portuguese are living in the city, drawn to Macau by its combination of historic ties to Portugal and its position on the doorstep of China (it helps that Portugal is mired in a long-running economic crisis). “China is rising, and you can have economic success more easily,” says João Nonis, a 20-year-old Lisbon native, whose family hails from another former Portuguese colonial outpost, Guinea-Bissau. He came to Macau two years ago so that he can study in English, but says Macau should embrace its unique combination of linguistic and cultural history. “The Portuguese connection is what’s special about Macau,” says Nonis.
For now, it’s the casinos that remain Macau’s economic focus. “We are the closest place to China for Chinese people to come to game, and we don’t need to diversify,” says Coutinho, bluntly. “The structure of our economy is gaming.” Next door to Studio City, The Parisian Macao is almost complete. It’s the latest extension of Republican financier Sheldon Adelson’s Sands empire. He’s already built the Venetian Macao on the same Cotai Strip, which contains a model version of the Piazza San Marco and a canal replete with gondolas under the 24-hour daylight of an artificial cloud-dappled sky. The Parisian goes a step further: a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower is already complete. For Lei, the curator, this one-upmanship typifies the counterfeit nature of the new Macau, made in the image of its Nevada counterpart. “Actually, Las Vegas is a copy, so Macau is a copy of a copy,” she laments. “I suddenly realize there are a lot of places where I think, this is not Macau anymore. It feels so strange. The atmosphere is a little bit fake.”

California tribe wins land-into-trust court battle

California tribe wins land-into-trust court battle

In northern California, the federally-recognized Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria could finally be allowed to open a casino after a federal judge upheld a previous land-into-trust ruling over the objections of local officials.
According to a report from The Bellingham Herald newspaper, the tribe wants to construct a 42,000 sq ft casino on a portion of 625 acres of land located about ten miles south of the city of Chico. After purchasing the plot in 2001, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria submitted a land-into-trust application with the Department Of The Interior and had the request approved in 2008.
It was at this point that Butte County, which already hosts a pair of casinos in the Gold Country Casino And Hotel and the Feather Falls Casino And Lodge, objected in court citing environmental and water-supply concerns. This eventually resulted in an appellate court ordering the Department Of The Interior to conduct a review into its decision, which ultimately led to the federal agency via then-Assistant Secretary Of The Interior Kevin Washburn to conclude in 2014 that its original verdict had been justified.
Undeterred by the Department Of The Interior’s second pronouncement, Butte County took the matter to the United States District Court For The District Of Columbia in hopes of overturning the land-into-trust decision.
However, in his Friday ruling, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote that the Department Of The Interior’s 2014 decision had been “thorough and well-reasoned” and had “included explanations that were consistent with the evidence before the agency and considered all of the relevant issues” including a claim from the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria that they were among the first peoples to have lived in the areas around Chico.
“The secretary noted that he had derived the recitation of the tribe’s history from his review of all of the documents submitted by the tribe and the county as well as his own independent research,” read the 17-page decision from Scullin, who was appointed to the federal bench 24 years ago by then-President George HW Bush.
“We’re very pleased, obviously,” Sandra Knight, Vice-Chairperson for the Mechoopda Indian Tribe Of Chico Rancheria, told the newspaper. “This battle has been going on for more than ten years.”
Despite the possibility that Butte County could appeal the land-into-trust decision a final time, the tribe stated that it now intends to proceed with plans to build a casino offering around 500 slots and ten gaming tables.
“Since we were re-recognized, we have the right to establish reservation or tribal land in Chico,” Knight told local television broadcaster KHSL-TV. “They went after the tribe at it’s core, saying that we were a manufactured tribe. This is just a main economic development project for the tribe that will create funding for future generations; childcare, healthcare, all of those things that we haven’t been able to provide for our members.”

2 Calif. tribes sue to block casino proposal

Two California casino-owning tribes have filed lawsuits to block a third tribe in the state from building its own casino.

Federal judge denies effort to block proposed Indian casino in Butte County

POSTED: 1:29 PM Jul 18 2016

CHICO, Calif. -
U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen denied Butte County’s request to block the Mechoopda Indian Tribe’s proposed casino, paving the way for a casino to be built on a portion of 600 acres owned by the tribe at the northeast intersection of Highways 99 and 149.
Butte County asserted that the government's decision to take the land into trust was unfounded, and agreed with the Department of Interior's determination that the tribe did indeed have a historical connection to the land.
In a statement, the Mechoopda Tribe said it looks forward to advancing its proposed casino project.

County’s Tribal Casino Challenge Lacking, Judge Says

Law360, Washington (May 10, 2016, 1:09 PM ET) -- A D.C. federal judge on Tuesday appeared poised to deny a California county’s request to block a proposed casino for the Mechoopda Native American tribe, saying at a hearing the county failed to show how the federal government’s decision to take land into trust was unfounded.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullen said Butte County was essentially asking the court to “second guess” the Department of Interior’s determination that the Mechoopda had a historical connection to hundreds of acres in Chico, California, and “substitute” his judgment for...

Mechoopda Casino Project Upheld in Federal Court
April 16, 2009
The Mechoopda Casino Project was challenged by Butte County in Federal court, however U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed the county’s suit yesterday. AES prepared the NEPA Environmental Assessment for the Tribe’s casino project.
Judge: County can’t stop casino
By ROGER H. AYLWORTH – Staff Writer
Posted: 04/14/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
OROVILLE — After more than two years of legal briefs, arguments and counter-arguments, a federal court in Washington, D.C. has rejected a Butte County effort to block a Mechoopda casino on Highway 149, about a mile east of Highway 99.
Monday, representatives of the tribe and the county issued announcements that U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had dismissed the county’s suit.
Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert, in a press release, stated, “The proposed casino site on Highway 149 will have major public safety, traffic, environmental and groundwater impacts.
“For the past several years, the casino developer has simply refused to work with Butte County to find an alternative site. As a result, Butte County had no recourse other than this litigation.”
Throughout the entire process, the county maintained the lawsuit was about environmental concerns related to the tribe’s proposed casino site, and not an attack on the Mechoopda.
Even so, the suit, which was filed against the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior, sought to persuade the court the agencies could not grant the Chico Rancheria Mechoopda the right to use the land because the Mechoopda did not qualify as a tribe.
Based on a study conducted in 2006 by Professor Stephen Dow Beckham, of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., the county lawsuit charged the Chico Rancheria unit of the Mechoopda Indians was not a tribe in any meaningful sense, but was an amalgamation of 11 groups that had little or nothing to do with the historic Mechoopda tribe.
The county claimed if the Chico Rancheria group was not a legitimate tribe, the federal agencies could not grant them the necessary authority to put a casino on the Highway 149 property.
“The court has considered the briefing, scoured the record, and pressed the parties on this issue during oral argument. Having done so, the court cannot find the county has done enough to justify setting aside the agencies’ actions here,” wrote Judge Kennedy in his decision.
Doug Elmets of Sacramento, the tribe’s spokesman, said the casino project is “alive and well.”
“This project has been in the process for many years despite the hurdles that have been thrown in its way, particularly by Butte County,” he said.
Elmets explained, from the tribe’s perspective, the next step will be to get the agreements with the state that will allow for gaming on the 645-acre site.
He also said it is far too early to discuss a target for groundbreaking.
The press release from the county said the possibility of an appeal is still being discussed.
As of the end of 2008, the litigation had cost the county nearly $322,800, according to records obtained by the tribe.
Elmets charged that was money “that was flushed down the drain on a frivolous lawsuit.”
Posted in News'

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hawaiian Gardens Casino levied $2.8m fine by FinCEN for AML lapses

Hawaiian Gardens Casino levied $2.8m fine by FinCEN for AML lapses

Monday, July 18, 2016

How gambling and greedy governments may shape the future of Long Island

Greg Blass

How gambling and greedy governments may shape the future of Long Island

Should the Islandia Marriott Long Island Hotel, on the LIE’s north service road, be permitted a betting parlor? This would be a Suffolk County OTB “mini-casino.” If a Buffalo based developer has his way, he would buy the entire hotel, and lease space to OTB to operate a racing simulcast facility along with 1,000 video lottery terminals. This latest legalized gambling project for Long Island is worth our discussion, and gives good reason to look at the big, changing, gambling picture here and nationwide.
Blass_Greg_head_badgeThe Islandia Village Board held public hearings for this mini-casino project. Things did not go well. Citizens largely opposed it, concerned about a rise in crime and traffic, and a negative impact on property values. So the board scheduled for last Tuesday its vote for a special permit for the hotel’s mini-casino. But this pending vote put the village board members on edge. Then, with the vote a mere 24 hours away, these politicians got creative – they canceled the vote altogether. They gave no reasons, but clearly they relished the comfort of putting things off. One civic leader did say the mayor told him that they needed more time to look into things.
What overall has become of legalized gambling of late? In New York alone, how much of government life has it become? Will the big money that drives it bring it to the East End, maybe even to EPCAL at Calverton? Can local politicians resist the allure of its almost magical revenue? Does what’s best for working people and families matter at all?
A new book entitled, From Steel to Slots – Casino Capitalism in the Postindustrial City by Chloe E. Taft is a good place to start. Her enlightening history about gambling also describes the impact of a casino in a working family town, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In little more than half a century, the United States has become a gambling nation. In the early 60s, Nevada was the only state on the map allowing casino gambling. None had lotteries. From then till now, however, what a change! Today, 28 states host casinos owned by American Indian tribes. Nineteen states boast of commercial casinos (i.e. run by private companies). Fourteen states permit racetracks offering casino gambling at “racinos.” Lotteries as we know them here in New York, are the pride of 44 state governments as well as Washington D.C. Utah and Hawaii are the only two left of those 49 in the early ’60s where both lotteries and casinos remain illegal. And how the legalized gambling states crave that revenue for enlarging government operations without raising taxes! But they raise taxes anyway – gambling just helps feed the growing government gorilla.
Just as government’s addiction to growth feeds increasingly on government-sponsored gambling, there grows as well an addiction to gambling among ordinary, hard-working folk. In a cruel irony, cash-hungry states feed on the uncontrollable urge of many people to keep on gambling despite the toll it takes on their lives. The American Gambling Association reports there are now more than 6 million adult compulsive gambling Americans addicted to gambling. And a study out of UCLA-San Diego found that both visitors and residents of gaming communities experience “significantly higher levels of suicide.” This study is one of several showing that Las Vegas “displays the highest levels of suicide in the nation.” Needless to say, Nevada has the highest level of addicted gamblers in the US.
The spreading ink blot of legalized gambling had all to do with one state permitting it so as not to lose gambling bucks to another where it had already been permitted – a sort of peer pressure among state governments. State by state, lotteries and casinos have almost imperceptibly become a normal feature of American life, right under the nose of the federal government and even the national news media.
As From Steel to Slots would tell it, the Bethlehem experience is quite instructive. As in New York and New Jersey, the Pennsylvania state legislature designated places where a casino would be permitted, and Bethlehem is one of them. In an effort to fill a void left by that city’s defunct steel industry, Bethlehem’s commercial casino draws all the gamblers it can from New York and New Jersey by the busload. The lingering fear in Bethlehem, however, is that all the jobs, revenues for governments, charitable donations and prosperity will prove temporary just as it did in Atlantic City, where the winning promise of gambling hit the money, only to be followed by bankrupt casinos lining the boardwalk. Pennsylvania has done well so far, but how reliable is their transition from manufacturing steel to manufacturing entertainment?
Lotteries are far different, employ few and build nothing. Yet lotteries put government in the proverbial catbird’s seat, raking in revenue from a form of gambling that they permit, then sponsor, then profit from.
Our own New York sponsors lotteries, and permits charitable and “pari-mutual” gambling as well as racetrack betting and parlors. It does not permit commercial casinos, but does allow American Indian casinos, whose revenues are dedicated to tribal purposes (with fat shares for greedy state and local governments.)
Long Island’s own Shinnecock Nation strives to lay claim to what had been its own lands on the East End. Their tenacity in court already gained them crucial tribal recognition, and if they hold out, who knows where their claim may go to enlarge their nation’s territory by many square miles on the South Fork. Any odds?
Shinnecock tribal leaders publicly state their aim with land reclamation is to gain “leverage” in locating a site for a casino, including one clearly attractive site, EPCAL at Calverton. EPCAL as a gambling center continues to be the subject of discussion among developers, real estate brokers, bankers and politicians. The Shinnecocks hear many a whispered word of encouragement from vested interests in New York City and Albany, and from as far away as the West Coast. The Shinnecocks are a far more sophisticated group than some want to admit, and they enjoy the advantage of being underestimated. Other Long Island tribes are moving in the same direction.
Suffice it to say that a tribal casino for Long Island is not as far-fetched an idea as it may have seemed, irrespective of where it is located. The intrigue continues. If, or when, it gains momentum, it will make the current mini-casino saga in Islandia look like small potatoes. The broader, long-term question persists: with casino gambling and all the “prosperity” it supposedly offers: Will Long Island’s own “Lady Luck” hang in, or run out?
Greg Blass has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He has worked in the private sector as an attorney and served six terms representing the East End in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he was also presiding officer. Greg has worked as an adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College, as Greenport village attorney, as N.Y. State family court judge and as Suffolk County social services commissioner. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a member of the board of directors of several charities. A resident of Jamesport, he and his wife Barbara have two grown children.