Casino Gambling for Massachusetts is a Crapshoot!

Two little letters say it all about one’s perspective on Speaker Robert DeLeo’s proposal to site two resort casinos and slot machines at four racetracks in Massachusetts. He and other supporters speak of gaming (a harmless family entertainment akin to bingo night or Radio City Music Hall); opponents preserve the b and the l and speak of gambling, with all the social costs that gambling entails.

DeLeo makes a compelling case, noting that, while the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 9.4 percent plus the “no longer counted,” the unemployment in union halls is between 30 percent and 50 percent. He says that, with 65 unemployed people for every job opening, creating a whole new sector is a legitimate plan. DeLeo concedes that casino jobs are not high-wage jobs; he calls them “value-added jobs” to help with the “blue collar depression.” Unfortunately, he is not ready to say how many jobs his gam(bl)ing proposal will generate. Nor will he say just yet what revenues, both from licensing and other taxes, the casinos will produce.

DeLeo says he is aware of the social costs, such as gam(bl)ing addiction. But some of the revenues generated would go to gam(bl)ing addiction programs. Why not just avoid creating new addicts in the first place? Other revenues would go to Massachusetts manufacturers, who need capital improvements, and to community colleges and voke ed schools for job training.

What hasn’t been discussed of late is how much casino gam(bl)ing would cut into lottery spending and, in the end, cut state aid to local cities and towns. When Governor Bill Weld was negotiating with the Wampanoags for a western Massachusetts casino and 2800 slot machines at the racetracks, the projected cut in lottery revenues was some 12 percent.

Much of the research supporting casinos has been funded by the industry. On the other side, there’s a huge amount of research on the negative effects of gambling on retailing, restaurants and other entertainment. (Check out United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.) State police in Connecticut years ago told me of a marked increase in so-called quality-of-life crimes, like check kiting and prostitution. The conflicting evidence makes one’s head spin like a roulette wheel!

My reservations about casinos are not a matter of morals. I just don’t want to be sold a bill of goods. I want hard data (beyond the anecdotal sighting of cars with Massachusetts license plates at Foxwoods) on what the net costs and benefits are likely to be. And we all need to be aware of who’s going to pay the price if gam(bl)ing expansion cannibalizes other people and businesses in the Commonwealth. Once the decision is made, the die is cast.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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