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August 23, 2014
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A voice against proposition one

Most high-profile community leaders are supporting the gambling proposition, but Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Ramsay Adams is not.
Contributed photo


Ramsay Adams knows that a lot of important people in Sullivan County and beyond are in favor of gaming. They want people to vote “yes” on Proposition One in November and change the state constitution to allow up to seven casinos in the state. But Adams’ reluctant position is to oppose the proposition, because he believes casinos in Sullivan County will bring more harm than good.

Adams is the executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an organization dedicated to preserving the environment in the Catskills. His opinion is that our region may end up getting three or more casinos. While the language of the referendum regarding casinos would limit the number of casinos in the state to seven, there’s nothing about where the casinos would be located. And while the related bill limits the number of casinos in Sullivan County to two, once the referendum has passed that number could change because the bill could change.

Because of the deal Governor Andrew Cuomo made with various Indian tribes with land claims, the majority of counties in the state would not be eligible to host a casino, and many areas do not want a casino. Therefore, in Adams’ view, it is possible that this region could get three casinos, located at the Concord site in the Town of Thompson, the Grossinger’s site in Liberty and the Nevele site in Ellenville.

Adams said that even one casino, and certainly two or three, would mean an increase in environmental impacts such as increased traffic, and also an increase in social ills such as crime and gambling addiction. The fallout from the social impact would have to be paid for at least in part by local taxpayers, who can’t afford it.

Adams is certainly not alone in his view that casinos make a great deal of revenue from problem gamblers. According to information on the website stoppredatorygambling.org, “A 2004 study prepared for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre found that 60% of machine revenue was derived from problem gamblers and that 35% of total gambling revenue was derived from moderate and severe problem gamblers.”

Adams said in a phone interview, “Multiple casinos in rural areas are absolutely predatory engines, and we end up with drugs, prostitution and crime.”

There is also the concern that because of the casino push, gaming interests have an overly influential impact on the political process. Adams cited the report by Common Cause, NY issued on October 8 which said, “during the last two years, in which the legislature voted twice to approve casino style gambling, the industry has contributed a total of $3.2 million to individual politicians and political committees.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of the organization, said, “New York’s lax campaign finance laws make it possible for high rollers, like the gambling industry, to dictate public policy. The problem is that the rules of the game are stacked against average voters and the house always wins.”

Senator John Bonacic was the fifth-largest recipient of the money, gaining $87,000 in contributions; he has been championing casinos for at least a decade.

Nearly all of the county legislators and most town officials are also now supporting Proposition One. Because of the nearly unanimous support among community leaders, Adams feels that others may hold back on speaking out against them.

He said he has spoken to members of the farming community who are opposed to the referendum. Further, he said, members of the community who are in favor of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing are not necessarily in favor of gambling. There’s no correlation between the two. Further, he said, the religious community is opposed to the referendum

In the end, however, the opinions of the residents of Sullivan County would not count for much, because it’s the voters across the entire state who will decide the issue. Catskill Mountainkeeper has joined the growing chorus of organizations that say that the language of the proposition is biased because of its rosy nature, and will lure “yes” votes from others who would otherwise vote against the proposition.

A recent poll in Sienna College suggested the language might sway as much as 6% of voters, and the poll suggested that because of the language, the proposition may be passed by the voters. A lawsuit over the matter has been dismissed and the proposition will go before the public with the language that was approved in Albany.

As for bringing more visitors to the Catskills, Adams said casinos don’t share. Casino patrons “don’t go to the local restaurants, they don’t go on nature walks, they don’t canoe down the Delaware. We’re not bringing visitors to the Catskills, the casinos are bringing gamblers to the roulette tables.”