Casino foes, advocates in N.Y. both point to Atlantic City

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Atlantic City, N.J., is being presented as "Exhibit A" for both sides in the battle to legalize casino gambling in New York State. Proponents, including the New York State Hotel & Motel Association and organized labor, say Atlantic City and its casinos were responsible for sapping nearly $1 billion from tourist-rated activities in the Empire State last year alone.

Opponents, including the New York State Council of Churches and the New York State Racing Association, argue that the upsurge of crime and other social and economic ills that have errupted in Atlantic city since casinos opened there are compelling evidence why they should be kept out of this state.

In turn, the debate is being heightened by the Reagan administration's proposed cutbacks in state and local aid across the United States which have made many New York politicans all the more eager to risk playing for the "jackpot" of anticipated casino tax revenues. A study published by the Coalition for Casino Gaming Inv. estimates that the legalization of casino gaming here will generate more than $500 million in annual state and local government revenues.

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But the price of these revenues is too high, says Charles Kriss, the attorney for "No Dice -- We Love New York Inc.," anorganization leading the campaign against casino gambling here. It is funded primarily by the state racing association.

"Atlantic City is our best ally," Mr. Kriss firmly believes. "Since the advent of casino gambling there [in May 1981], the social as well as economic problems it has caused provide us with concrete evidence why casino gambling would be an incalculable mistake here."

He and other casino gambling opponents cite these facts:

* The overall Atlantic City crime rate has gone up 90 percent since the advent of casino gambling in that city. After two years, murders were up 40 percent and car thefts up 70 percent.

* For every dollar that Atlantic County, N.J., has received in asino tax revenues it has had to pay out $1.04 in services.

* Higher rents and taxes have forced thousands of low- and middle-income families out of Atlantic City -- the people casino gambling was supposed to help most.

* The city has become fertile ground for thousands of new compulsive gamblers , resulting in untol family problems. Since May 1980 the number of Gamblers Anonymous chapters in New Jersey has risen from 15 to 26.

"If Casino gambling is legalized, it's going to destroy a lot of people and the quality of life here," says Arnold Wexler, vice-president of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc., a nonprofit group that helps problem gamblers.

Ironically, the Coalition for Casino Gaming Inc. is also pointing to Atlantic City as a primary reason why to legalize.

"Atlantic City has over $2.5 billion of advanced convention business on its books, much of which would normally have come to New York," says Rudolph Yacyshyn, coalition executive director.

The pros and cons of casino gambling will be aired at a public hearing before the state Assembly's Subcommittee on Casino Gambling next month. Assemblywoman Gerdi E. Lipschutz, a casino advocate who chairs the subcommittee,believes casino legislation has a "50-50 chance of being passed this year."

Helping to spur passage of a casino bill is the fact that both Gov. Hugh L. Carey and New York City Mayor Edward Koch are avid supporters of casino gambling.

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