A large majority of New York City residents think the non-Indian gambling casinos authorized by Proposal One on next week’s statewide ballot will bring in “significant new revenue for New York state and local governments,” according to a New York Times-Siena poll released Tuesday.

If they’re voting “yes” on that basis, they’re in for a rude awakening.

While the ballot measure says casinos will generate “job growth,” “more school aid” and “lower property taxes,” the projected impacts won’t actually amount to much in a statewide context. In fact, the new jobs will be relatively few, the new school aid will be minimal and the impact on property taxes in most of the state will be barely perceptible.

Let’s take the claims one at a time.

Job creation: NY Jobs Now, the labor-business coalition campaigning for Proposal One, claims approval will lead to the creation of “more than 10,000 new, permanent jobs.”

It’s not clear whether the estimate relates to the initial four upstate casinos authorized by the Prop One enabling statute, or the seven that can be in operation once the New York City region is opened to full-blown casinos after seven years. The state Gaming Commission estimated that the four upstate casinos alone will create 9,600 jobs — 6,700 temporary construction jobs and just 2,900 net additional permanent positions.

Even the higher figure of 10,000 would boost total upstate private-sector employment by a grand total of just 0.4 percent. And the new jobs would be concentrated entirely in a few host communities — one of which must, by law, be in the Capital Region, whose relatively strong economy has already been pumped up by billions in state subsidies for tech investments.

By comparison, Gov. Cuomo’s own environmental agency has projected that natural-gas fracking operations in upstate New York would mean the direct creation of 17,634 construction jobs and 7,161 production jobs, indirectly promoting creation of more than 29,000 jobs in other sectors. And fracking would have a more significant and concentrated economic impact than casinos in the state’s economically neediest area — the Southern Tier — but Cuomo still isn’t giving it the green light.

School aid: Cuomo’s Division of the Budget has estimated that, when fully operational, new casinos and expanded racinos authorized under Prop One’s enabling law, the Upstate Gaming and Economic Development Act, will generate $238 million in new revenues for state aid to K-12 education. But that’s just a sliver in the state school-aid pie — the equivalent of 1 percent of current state aid to local schools.

Even that figure is a bit deceptive, because the Gaming Act OK’d up to 2,000 electronic slot machines at facilities run by the Nassau County and Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corporations, which will go online even if Prop One fails. So revenues from upstate casinos alone will probably be less than $200 million.

Property tax relief: Including school aid, total added local revenues from casinos will equate to 1.2 percent of total property-tax revenues outside New York City as of 2011, the latest year for which local tax data are available. On a regional basis, the impact will range from a low of 0.6 percent of property taxes in Long Island and the Catskills-Hudson Valley to 2.4 percent in Central New York-Mohawk Valley region.

At best, the added money could make it easier for most local governments and school districts to hold their property tax hikes below the state’s 2 percent cap — for a single year.

Whatever else can be said of casinos — and there are plenty of negatives, as well as the much-hyped positives — Prop One clearly won’t be an economic or fiscal game-changer for the state as a whole, much less for the most economically struggling metro areas Upstate.

But if the polls are right, the pro-casino campaign is at least confirming one old adage: There’s a sucker born every minute.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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