As New York State prepares to put its chips down on casinos to bolster the upstate economy, it's worth reading a dispatch by Charles Bagli from Atlantic City in The New York Times today that looks at the struggling casinos there.
Bagli notes that since January, four of the city's 12 casinos have announced plans to shut down if they can't find buyers. It's been a long, strange trip for the seaside resort town that hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1964 and turned to gambling in the late 1970s as its savior.
Although gambling initially flourished there, it never really worked out that well for the rest of the city, which was still racked by high unemployment, drugs, and crime.
But with the expansion of casinos nationally over the last ten years, Atlantic City's city's goose is delivering it fewer golden eggs; gambling revenue is down $2.8 billion since 2006.
All of this should give New York officials pause as the Empire State looks to bring four casinos to three upstate regions that are trying to pull out of an economic funk. Seventeen bids have been made by companies that see dollar signs dance before their eyes in towns that may soon resemble Pottersville in "It's a Wonderful Life."
While people will certainly line up to flush away their hard-earned cash at these new casinos, it's unclear how much of that money will actually make its way to rebuilding the upstate economy. And in light of Atlantic City's troubles, maybe some of those rosy revenue estimates should be scaled back.
It seems unlikely that New York City residents will be traveling hundreds of miles to the Catskills or Albany to gamble if they can already hit a casino filled with slot machines in Queens or Yonkers. It simply means that upstate residents – many of whom are already struggling – will be pumping in more of their money to a losing cause.
Casinos are typically zero-sum games – not economic engines. As a gambler would say, upstate is going to need to find itself a bigger whale.