Lesson of DiMasi: we can’t always bet on the character of those who lead us

If there’s one thing to be learned from the sad demise of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, it’s the need for transparency, doing the people’s business in the people view. If there’s one place it should be applied immediately, it’s in the dealings around casinos for Massachusetts that surely are going on behind closed doors.

There has been a lot of debate about the impact of casinos on our economy, the jobs they would generate, the revenues that would redound to the treasury. We’ve also heard dire warnings about how our quality of life would be affected, how business would be drawn away from proprietors of small enterprises, like restaurants and other entertainment venues, how casino gambling and accompanying slot machines (possibly at racetracks, called racinos) can mean crime, bankruptcy, domestic violence and suicide (not unlike heroin addiction).

Let’s for the moment willingly suspend our disbelief and accept that all the wonderful things touted by proponents will actually materialize, there’s still a lesson from the fall of DiMasi. Last year, disagreements over casinos between House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Governor Deval Patrick caused the legislative wheels to grind to a halt. This year, presumably to avoid that kind of debacle, the two branches are negotiating their differences behind closed doors.

But who’s in with them? Lobbyists for the casino industry? For Indian gaming? For the racetracks? For the labor unions? Who’s in there representing the public interest? Who’s making sure that, as in the DiMasi case, the public is not deprived of “honest services” of our elected officials?

Perhaps transparency would shed light on what regulatory body is being designed to oversee, regulate and enforce rules for expanded gambling in the Commonwealth. Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger decried “backroom dealing” in an interview with WBZ’s Jon Keller. He warns that we don’t have in place an appropriate mechanism to make sure that the promises being made for jobs and economic development actually occur. If there is to be a new regulatory body, who will be on it, what rules will they promulgate, how will they enforce them? Do we think that some of the problems that have happened in other states won’t happen here? Who besides the casino operators will benefit?

Whether we support or oppose casino gambling, we deserve answers to those questions in advance and a transparent process for making the plan.

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

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