New York State is charging headlong into the casino business, with four full-service gambling resorts expected to be approved this fall and opened as early as next year, and talk of a torrent of new revenue, thousands of new jobs and a powerful economic jump-start for long-depressed upstate communities.
Supporters of the expansion — most notably Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — hope it will reverse the fortunes of economically stagnating regions like the Catskills, where little has filled the void left by the demise of the borscht belt.
But analysts, economists and casino operators warn that the industry is already suffering the effects of fierce competition, if not saturation, even in the Northeast, once a rich, untapped market. Winnings are flat or shrinking in many places. Casinos in Atlantic City are closing; Foxwoods, in Connecticut, is cutting costs. The longstanding image of gambling as a no-doubt winner for state governments has quietly gone the way of a bettor’s bankroll after too many hours at the tables.
None of which bodes well for the long-term goals of Mr. Cuomo’s plan.
“He’s 15 years too late to the party,” said Harold L. Vogel, a longtime gambling industry analyst.
Once confined to Nevada and Atlantic City, gambling has become a fixture of the economy in states across the country, with nearly 1,000 commercial and tribal casinos in 39 states, and dozens of casinos in the Northeast corridor between West Virginia and Maine.
“I think the entire industry knows that there’s too much supply for the demand that’s out there,” said Richard McGowan, an economics professor at Boston College who studies casino gambling. “The gusher is over.”
Recent developments have been ominous: Thousands of layoffs are expected this year in Atlantic City, where three casinos are poised to be shuttered. Closings and revenue declines have also hit states like Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa, all early adopters in the nation’s casino craze.
Nearer to New York, taxes and revenue are down at casinos in Pennsylvania and in Connecticut, where the Pequot tribe, owners of Foxwoods, stopped paying every adult member a $100,000 yearly stipend in 2012. In Delaware, legislators authorized a $10 million casino bailout in July. And some neighboring states are having second thoughts about the whole business. In Massachusetts, voters will decide in November whether to repeal a 2011 law that legalized casinos there.
In June, regulators in Massachusetts approved an $800 million casino in Springfield, a battered city where tourist traffic until now has mainly been headed for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Barring a repeal of the gambling law, the first slot parlor in the state, south of Boston, is expected to open by next summer.
I keep saying that there's a big first-mover advantage in opening a casino. But Massachusetts and New York seem really intent on finding this out the hard way.