The statewide referendum to allow 7 state sanctioned casinos in New York State passed on election day.  The result is that the Catskill region will see at least one Las Vegas style casino.   Mountainkeeper opposed the referendum and made the case that the costs outweigh the benefits.  Now Mountainkeeper will work with the Governor, local elected officials and developers to ensure that the best location is chosen and that the negative impacts of a casino are mitigated as much as possible.  We want to make sure that the casino succeeds and has a positive impact on the region.  The referendum promised to create jobs, lower taxes and support education- we will work to make sure those promises are fulfilled.  There is a thoughtful editorial on this in the Albany Times Union and we encourage everyone – both proponents and opponents of the referendum to read it here:
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Watch ABC News’ report on the referendum with Mountainkeeper’ response here:
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How Can We Mitigate the Negative Impact of Legalized Gambling in the Catskills?

Catskill Mountainkeeper opposed bringing casinos to the Catskills because of the pervasive and compelling environmental, social and economic problems that will accompany casino development.

Now that gambling has been legalized and a casino in the Catskills is a certainty we are now working to ensure that whatever developments occur, they are the best they can be and that the negative impacts are mitigated as much as possible.   If we are going to have a casino in the Catskills we want it to succeed.   In 2008, Catskill Mountainkeeper, working with NRDC and other environmental allies, played an instrumental role in the rejection by federal officials of several so-called “off-reservation” Indian casino proposals, including one to be built directly on the banks of the famed Neversink River.

The threat of multiple casinos along Route 17 near Monticello would bring a dramatic spike in traffic and pollution problems to the region, but could also forever change the unique rural character of the Western Catskills and bring serious infrastructure and social problems. We continue to vigilantly track these ever changing casino proposals now that gambling is legal in New York.  We are ready to resume the active phase of our fight, including in court, against the building of numerous large-scale Catskill casinos as conditions on the ground warrant.

Environmental Problems
The threat of environmental problems from proposed casinos in especially sensitive ecological areas, such as along the Neversink River will:

  • Destroy broad swathes of thriving habitat, plant and animal life
  • Compromise water resources through deforestation, erosion, and             construction blasting
  • Increase the risk of toxic substances entering surface and groundwater
  • Exacerbate the danger of flooding – threatening homes and property.

Currently 1,000,000 visitors travel up Route 17 to visit the Catskills each year.  The combined visitors estimated for only one casino is more than 6 million!  Building more than one casino could add millions more cars to the road. This 24-hour a day influx could overwhelm our roadways, making it extremely difficult for full and part time residents to move around the area for business or pleasure. It would discourage the existing tourist base from continuing to come to enjoy our natural beauty.  Emissions from so many autos would contaminate our air and noticeably foul the quality of what we breathe.

While it is clear that these environmental dangers exist, no comprehensive environmental review has been completed to quantify the overall impact of bringing the casinos here.  In fact, during the Bush Administration, the Federal  Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that one of these mega casino projects would have no significant impact on the environment and thus no full environmental review was necessary.

Economic Problems
While casinos are promoted as helping the local economy by bringing people to the area and increasing the local business base, each casino would be a self-contained destination “city” that would have all of the services, food, and retail outlets that visitors would need.  They would not bring new revenue to our existing infrastructure of restaurants, bars, service establishments and small mom and pop businesses as promised.  Instead they would create new levels of competition causing many of our businesses to go out of business.

Social Problems
Based on what has happened when gambling has been introduced in other communities, it is proven that casinos bring problems like increased crime, prostitution, poverty, violence, child and elder abuse, chemical dependency and suicide.  These could affect virtually everyone in our community.

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association recognize gambling addiction as a pathological and compulsive mental disorder.   Desperate to “chase” and recover gambling losses, pathological gamblers often turn to crime.

Warren Buffet said it well in an interview with Nebraska’s Gambling with the Good Life on September 15, 2004 when speaking against casinos that were being proposed in his home state:

“It’s certainly clear that a given percentage of people will become addicted and use money they’ve got no business using, and that percentage is not a small percentage.”

“Addictions produce crime. If you have a large group of people who are addicted to drugs, you’ll have more crime. If you have a large group of people who are addicted to gambling, you’ll have more crime. People get into impossible situations when they get addicted to something like that. And some people will opt for crime, some will opt for bankruptcy, some may commit suicide.”

“We’re going to have drug addicts in this country, but I don’t think the state ought to get in the business where it hopes there are more drug addicts and starts selling needles. And we’re going to have gambling addicts in this country but I don’t think that the state ought to become the sponsor of spreading that addiction.

What Can We Do to Grow Our Economy?
The problems associate with legalized gambling are real and it is now our job to work with elected officials, state agencies and developers to ensure that the kinds of problems that will come with casinos are mitigated to the bat extent possible.  We want any casino in the region to succeed; to provide good jobs, lower taxes and support education while also keeping crime and drug addiction out of our rural hamlets.   Catskill Mountainkeeper strongly believes in the potential of economic revitalization in the Catskills. Our vision is to focus on the industries that we do best – like the resurgence of farming, farm to market efforts, main street revitalization, tourism, hotel development, the performing arts, alternate energy production, low impact industry, small business and the advancement of higher education.  The Catskill area is a special, unique and irreplaceable place. We believe in smart sustainable growth that will retain our rural nature, wonderful vistas, open spaces, waterways, old growth forests and farmland.