In 1990, Colorado held a statewide referendum to legalize limited stakes gambling in three struggling mining towns that were on the verge of ceasing to exist.
The towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek played a huge role in the boomtown gold rush of the mid-1800s, but when the gold ran dry these once bustling communities became ghost towns.
Faced with a dwindling population, deteriorating infrastructure and disintegrating architecture, officials in the towns banded together to lobby for gaming in their commercial districts, and the idea was put before Colorado voters.
The measure passed overwhelmingly, and investors began renovating historic structures for use as casinos. Beginning with opening day on October 1, 1991, gaming proved spectacularly successful in attracting new investment in amounts unheard of since the gold boom more than a century before.
Today, the same argument of dwindling population and deteriorating infrastructure could be made for many Adirondack towns. Data released in 2009 by the Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project (APRAP) clearly demonstrate that.
Student enrollment in our schools is evaporating, leading to fewer opportunities for our kids and our year-round population is aging. Dilapidated empty storefronts line our Main Streets.
Towns like Newcomb, Port Henry and Tupper Lake that once thrived from logging and mining now seem to be headed the way of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Casino gambling would without a doubt stop that trend, just as it did in Colorado, and would be a badly needed source of revenue for the state, hopefully leading to less reliance on things like the local property tax.
In Colorado, gaming pumps more than $100 million into the state’s economy each year. That money is used for everything from roads and transportation to infrastructure improvements to tourism promotion to historic preservation.
Colorado’s gaming industry also provides more than 27,000 direct and indirect jobs to its citizens and offers above-average wages — something as scarce in the Adirondacks as a 4-year-old car without rust.
In addition, casino employees in Colorado receive competitive fringe benefits like tuition reimbursement, transportation and meals, retirement and pension plans, health and life insurance, and exceptional promotional opportunities.
In other words, the very benefits our college graduates are leaving the area in search of.
Certainly the argument can be made that casinos would forever alter the quality of life that makes the Adirondacks the special place it is.
But through progressive planning — like forcing casinos into commercial districts, limiting stakes and establishing set closing times — casino gambling could be as good a fit here as it proved to be in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
The casino building proposal in New York is expected to come to a head later this year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo divulges up to seven potential casino locations.
The state legislature has already passed a constitutional amendment approving the new casinos. It must be passed again this year and then, like Colorado, must be approved in a statewide voter referendum before becoming law.
Anticipating approval some towns, like Port Henry, North Hudson and Lake George, have already tossed their hats in the ring for consideration to become host to one of the new casinos.
Potential locations such as Frontier Town, located at Exit 29 of the Northway in North Hudson; Roaring Brook Ranch off Exit 21 of the Northway in Lake George and the former Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in downtown Ticonderoga have emerged.
When it comes down to decision-making time, let’s hope the governor bases his decision on need rather than greed.
If so — and there is no conflict with existing Native American casinos — than no other region of the state would benefit more from a gaming operation than the Adirondacks.