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EXCERPT OF SPECIAL REPORT: The Great Yonkers Casino Gamble

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Empire City gaming floor (Westchester County Office of Tourism)

Last week, in part one of our Special Report, we looked at the genesis of Empire City, its evolution and growing popularity, and its quest to become a fully licensed casino with live dealers. Here, in part two, we take a candid look at some of the economic wins and social losses incurred by Yonkers and greater Westchester from its big bet on Empire City.

By Bailey Hosfelt

In New York, 18 to 24-year-olds currently have the highest percentage of problem gamblers at 24.8 percent. But for individuals recovering from a gambling addiction, the damage casinos like Empire City can create is dangerous enough — even without a full-fledged gaming license. 

“It got me hooked.” 

Ann, a Westchester resident who requested to go by her middle name to protect her identity, was never a gambler until she retired at 55.

The first time she went into Empire City, it was with her daughter, who had recently turned 21. She says going to the casino seemed like innocent fun at the time. 

A month or two after her first visit, Ann went back. Then a few weeks later, she went back again.

“The more you play there, the more free plays you get [sent] in the mail,” Ann says. “So every time I got those, I thought, ‘I’ll play with their money so I can lose their $10.’”

But then it became Ann’s…

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Sourcing & Methodology Statement:

This story sought to look at the successes and challenges connected to Empire City in the years since the casino has been operating, as well as the current push for a full-scale gaming license, which would allow live table games and dealers in addition to the current video lottery terminals. In order to present a well-rounded, nuanced, and diverse story, I spoke to stakeholders on both sides of the issue in Yonkers, including elected officials, safety personnel, labor leaders, business councils, school officials, anti-gambling advocates, and individuals overcoming addiction. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, interviews were conducted on the phone and via Zoom. Individuals overcoming addiction were named by first or middle name only to protect their anonymity due to the sensitive subject matter discussed. 

References:

“Casino Design: The Sneaky Tricks That Make You Spend More”, Casino, July 21, 2020, https://www.casino.org/blog/casino-design-psychology/

“The Relationship Between the Number of Types of Legal Gambling and the Rates of Gambling Behaviors and Problems Across U.S. States”, Journal of Gambling Studies, June 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4671822/

“The Crowded Market for Casino Gambling” New York Times, August 11, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/11/us/crowded-market-for-casino-gambling.html

“How do casinos affect Yonkers school funding?”, Lohud, May 29, 2018, https://www.lohud.com/story/news/education/2018/05/29/how-do-casinos-affect-yonkers-schools-funding/651940002/

“Casinos Keep New York School Money”, BuzzFeed News, September 28, 2015, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kevintownsend/lottery-slot-machines-shortchange-ny-schools

“Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway”, Empire City Casino by MGM Resorts, Fiscal Year 2022-2023, https://www.gaming.ny.gov/pdf/finance/Web%20Site%20Report%20-%20Empire%20City%20Casino%20at%20Yonkers%20Raceway.pdf

Dateline:

White Plains, New York

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