January 27, 2009, Albany Times Union: Editorial Blasting Catskills Casino Scheme "Bad, Worse Bets"

Bad, worse bets

First published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Wow. Talk about playing long shots. Talk about dreaming dangerously.

The push to bring gambling to the Catskills is on anew, with three state legislators from the region and near it showing the go-for-broke sort of thinking you'd expect in the wee hours in a bleak casino from the most down-and-out sort of bettor.

Assemblymen Gary Pretlow, D-Westchester County; Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Sullivan County; and Sen. John Bonacic, R-Orange County, want casinos in the Catskills, all right ? where the action would include legal betting on professional sports.

Imagine. The mountains of New York would have an unseemly touch of the deserts and glitz of Nevada. The underside of big-time sports gambling would be ever closer to the New York City region, which has no fewer than seven professional sports franchises. There's a reason why an otherwise growing and thriving city like Las Vegas has no professional sports. None of the leagues have any desire to be so near a place where legal sports betting is a booming industry.

Bringing sports betting to the Catskills is full of obstacles, fortunately. Turning the New York Jets or the New York Knicks into playoff-caliber teams would be easy by comparison. The federal government would have to add New York to its very short list of states ? currently that's just Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon ? where sports betting is permitted.

Mr. Pretlow, Mrs. Gunther and Mr. Bonacic know all that, too. That's why they have a somewhat safer bet to cover their truly outlandish bet. They're also pushing for legislation that would allow for casino gambling at three Catskills locations. Even that would require amending the state constitution and getting the approval of New York voters to allow for casinos not built by Native American tribes or on grounds held in trust by the federal government for a tribe.

There are better and so much less risky ways to revive the regional economy of a struggling part of New York. Economic development doesn't have to bring all the social costs of legal gambling.

That these legislators would so much as propose casinos featuring what are known in the betting world as Las Vegas-style sports books is mind-boggling. Another far-fetched notion or two, and perhaps some of their constituents would consider long shots of their own ? namely running against legislative incumbents.

The issue:

The push for casinos in the Catskills includes a plan for sports betting.

The Stakes:

Not a good idea, New York, not by a long shot.

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