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Gambling is a Dirty Business that Doesn't Belong in Mass.

With his approval of plans to bring a slot parlor and casinos to the Commonwealth, Gov. Deval Patrick is selling out the state. We will all suffer.

During the past six years, our state’s elected leaders have been trying to radically expand legalized gambling in the Commonwealth. Just last week, Gov. Deval Patrick, along with State Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, released a proposal that could lead to three casino resorts and one slots parlor opening within the state sometime during the next several years. Their hope is that by heavily taxing the establishments’ income, the state can raise badly needed revenue in order to keep paying its bills.

Instead, they're making a deal with the devil, which can only lead to disaster. Gambling is a filthy business that has no business being in Massachusetts. We need to kill this idea, once and for all.

What’s wrong with the Governor?

I’m puzzled by the behavior of our elected officials. Gov. Patrick seems to be a decent person with a good head on his shoulders and Senate President Murray has done wonderful things in the past (she made marriage equality and universal healthcare happen!). These are smart people who are doing something stupid.

Speaker of the House Robert “Bobby Slots” DeLeo, on the other hand, I have no idea. His actions speak louder than words. Last year he proposed having slot machines at the Wonderland dog park and a “resort-style” casino at the Suffolk Downs horse track, both of which (surprise!) are in his legislative district. So, if he, himself, isn’t profiteering from legalized gambling, it sure looks as though his pals are.

Gambling proponents say they simply want to keep money being spent elsewhere inside the state. Whatever. That doesn’t make it right. If you are going to argue the merits of gambling solely on money, alone, then you win. By any other measure, however, you can’t help but conclude; it’s blood money.

Gambling ruins people’s lives

Gambling’s social costs aren’t debatable. Those who gamble are likely taking risks they can’t afford and spending money they don’t have. Many have addictions that control their behavior, leaving them incapable of making wise decisions. If you don’t think gambling takes advantage of the poor, you haven’t been in a convenience store waiting in line with people spending $100 at a time on scratch tickets or who loiter around for hours, eyes transfixed by a Keno screen.

Gambling punishes people and takes advantage of them. This is different from other taxes; like, for example, when you earn a lot of money through hard work and you buy an expensive new car. The state takes its cut in the form of a sales tax, but you end up with something good, something tangible. Not so with gambling.

Casinos hurt cities

Heavy damage will be done to several major Massachusetts’ cities if the bill passes. The authors want to put a casino out in western Massachusetts, which will destroy the local economies they profess to be trying to save. And, the proposal calls for another casino to be built in southern Massachusetts, in New Bedford or Fall River.

A casino in either of those two cities won’t bring any economic benefits. Casinos are like major league ballparks. They do nothing for the neighborhoods around them. (I was at Yankees Stadium last summer. The new stadium has everything you need – food, drink, and entertainment. There’s no reason to walk across the street to the McDonalds, and few people do.) And, don’t tell me that Fenway Park has been good for its neighbors; for 90 of its first 100 years, it was surrounded by nothing more than car repair shops and sloppy beer bars.

Gambling will never make a bad city better – look at Atlantic City! And, in Connecticut, their jai alai gambling debacle left Hartford, Milford, and Bridgeport in worse shape than ever before.

Empty promises

Don’t think additional revenue will lead to lower tax bills. Remember, Massachusetts’ voters passed a resolution in 2000 (Question 4) that required the state to lower the income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5 percent but it only went as low as 5.3 percent before it got stuck (meaning, ignored).

Governments can’t help themselves from spending money. They prove this time and again. Lately, we’ve been hearing about how the state took in an additional $460 million in tax revenue. But, none of that money is going back to taxpayers; it’s already being spent.

Gambling: supply and demand

Truth is, the ship has already sailed when it comes to gambling, and Massachusetts has missed the boat.

There are already two casinos in Connecticut (one heavily in debt, by the way), Rhode Island has two slot parlors (one of which filed for bankruptcy in 2009, by the way), and Maine voters recently approved construction of a casino. New York State is looking to open non-Indian run casinos.

How much more gambling can the region support?

The increased competition, along with the seemingly-never ending recession, has already had an effect. This year's bill differs from last year's in that developers have to promise only to invest $500 million into each casino, down from $1 billion. And, the new gambling bill comes with revised economic benefit predictions. The estimated number of people needed for temporary construction jobs has dropped from 12,000 to 6,000 workers and the number of full-time permanent jobs has been cut in half to 7,000 onsite positions.

What does it mean to live in Massachusetts?

Ultimately, this is about deciding what type of state we want to live in.

Gambling is a dirty business that brings out the worst in people. Making money off gambling, off people’s bad luck, is the wrong way to go. We should be better than this.

At the very least, the governor – who’s already announced he’s not running for re-election – needs to stand strong and go back to last year's promise; no slots parlors. 

But, what he should really do is pull support for any expansion of legalized gambling and put an end to plans for casinos – “resort” or otherwise. Otherwise, his legacy is at risk of being forever stained by having brought into the state a filth that’s worse than disease.

Seamus O'Sullivan September 01, 2011 at 11:49 PM
I couldn't disagree with you more John. While I won't dispute your point that gambling does carry significant social costs, I'd argue that most degenerate gamblers living in Mass. are already likely frequenting one out of state casino or another. So your argument only really holds weight on the margin - those incremental degenerate gamblers that will be created by having a casino readily accessible to them that wouldn't have before. Obviously there's no real way to measure that social cost, but I'd suggest it's probably not as large as one would think. The fact is, the vast majority of people who visit casinos are not problem gamblers, are intelligent enough to understand gambling for what it is, and go less than once a year as a getaway. Why not capture that component of missed tax revenue that we're exporting to Massachusetts' surrounding states and create support programs for the small fraction of people for whom it becomes more than a casual diversion? The economic benefits are real. Unless, of course, you're MJ Campbell.

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