I get it when the tribe pushes its addictive product. But state officials shouldn't be pushers. Not long ago, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, while flattering the tribe for its vision, reportedly joked that she often talks to senior citizens who visit Foxwoods and tells them, "If you're going to gamble, could you go to the slot machines?" Not funny. For a senior citizen, slots are the most addictive device in a casino.
But here's the rub. Connecticut hitched its fiscal wagon to the casino in 1993 when Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. cut the deal that gave Foxwoods slots in exchange for a 25 percent take. The more that Connecticut residents lose at the slots, the more that flows into the state treasury. That's not just stupid public policy. It's criminal.
You need to simply not do business with so-called investors who have lied in the quite recent past. I am speaking of the agreement between the Mashpee Wampanoags and the town of Middleboro. (And even that land was too far away to meet the land-into-trust requirements.) What I say is a lie is their signed agreement to establish a casino in Middleboro and bring in the money. They have proved themselves indecisive and untrustworthy because they obviously backed out and have failed to uphold their end of the deal.
These investors do not care one cent about our city, their potential host. They didn't (and don't) care about Middleboro. We cannot afford to ignore that.
So I am asking you to immediately re-offer the land to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for the BioPark. We cannot have both and we may find ourselves with neither.
The best explanation for why gambling failed despite all the votes in favor of it, is that the Democrats in the state house needed gambling to fail and they needed to vote in favor of it.
They needed to be on-record as supporting mega-casinos because Patrick has turned the gambling industry into a lifeline of campaign funding for his allies. Slot machine companies, scratch card companies, racetrack developers, and others are among the biggest contributors to Massachusetts politicians. The companies contribute themselves, they hire lobbyists who contribute, and their employees contribute as individuals. In April the Boston Globe reported that the New Jersey-based consulting firm that the state paid to come up with the financial estimates for gambling also was being paid by DeLeo's campaign.
For her part, Senate President Therese Murray was more than happy to have Patrick and DeLeo slug it out over slots, while she seemed to stay above the fray, shoving wooden nickels into the debate. A real profile in courage, there.
Look, you want to pass a bill and build a casino or two? Fine. You want to have slots at the race tracks? Fine.
What's not fine is gaming the public that this whole effort is about shoring up the state's economy and creating tens of thousands of good-paying permanent jobs with benefits.
Casinos are not economic engines. Businesses such as manufacturing, commerce, farming, fishing, etc. create new wealth. They add value to the raw materials they have, such as steel made into a bolt or seed made into an ear of corn. Casinos do not create new wealth. They take the money from the gamblers and then redistribute it. This redistribution goes to four main places: Back to the gambler; to the cost of operations (wages, utilities, maintenance, upkeep, etc.; to the government as a tax (the pro-casino politicians love this part); to the owners (typically outside of our region). The most important of these is the last. One thing is for sure - money leaves the region. So why are our pro-casino politicians promoting casinos?
I would suggest that the folks inside the state house mentally substitute "dog tracks" with something like "brothels," or "cockfighting arenas," or "crack dens," and then consider whether they really want to be clogging up the legislative agenda with this pissing match over how best to financially compensate the people hurt by the laws banning their business. Because, to 56% of the Commonwealth, that's exactly what's happening.
Once again, the money we're getting from the casinos won't even cover it all. The opportunity for "Billy Bulger-type" retirements will be rampant. You'll be amazed how many state and local elected officials and bureaucrats will be transferring to the new "gaming enforcement" branch of the state government and go out with six-figure instead of five-figure pensions, after only three or four years on the job.
Gambling is a stale, parasitic enterprise. It only benefits those at the top - the financiers, the owners, and elected and appointed officials. Outside of the people running the show, gambling is going to be a disaster for the commonwealth.
Our finances are already being mismanaged by officials for their own self-interest. Government was never meant to be a business, nor its citizens a "revenue stream." But now that we've reached this vampiric state of existence, how do we get their fangs out of us?
The employment numbers in Mass. are worse by the day. In reality, where is the money coming from to justify three casinos, maybe two slot parlors, when too many of our citizens are unable to find work, are going into bankruptcy and losing their homes. For the state to be part of enticing the desperate with free booze and a stacked deck is unconscionable.
I have a big problem with our legislators adjusting their halos and claiming this is all about providing more local aid and services to the public. It's not. The hundreds of millions of dollars they will collect won't expand or improve services. It will simply feed the beast - provide bigger raises and better benefits to their friends and family members on the public payroll.
I have a big problem with anyone who claims, or believes, that this is going to solve the state's budget crisis. The state Lottery didn't solve it, even though it rakes in billions. Casinos and slots won't solve it either. The states that already have casinos are among the states with the biggest budget deficits. The reason is obvious - politicians always spend more than they have available. It's in their DNA.
Disenfranchising voters is just one of the casino-backers' tricks. In the casino business, the house always wins, and the state Senate is trying to give the house everything it wants - so casinos will not balk at other regulations firmly established in state law and culture. The only thing casino-backers lost was getting an exemption on the smoking ban.
In the same week Massachusetts state troopers buried one of their own, a father of four run down by an accused drunk driver while he was questioning another accused drunk driver, the Massachusetts Senate voted to let casinos serve free booze to their customers.
It is argued that players are fully grown up and ought to be free to choose their entertainments as willing parties in the particular games. Dr. Feingold listed a number of pathologies - including genetic factors - which indicate gambling often is not wholly a function of free will and controllable behavior. Excessive gambling - risk taking - is not simply a problem for the individual person but underlies severe problems for family, employer and the community.
In its early deliberations, the General Court appeared little disposed to address these personal and social problems arising through gambling operations. It focused upon being a partner with racino and resort casino operations and deriving as much revenue as possible therefore for its own needs
Some legislators even advocated letting the casinos run their businesses as the owners alone saw fit (i.e. unregulated.) The state would be a silent partner. Operators, of course, would be free to rig (program) machines and games to garner the maximum return for themselves and the silent partner.
I was astonished to read state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg's statement that "there is no proven reliable methodology to predict in advance what the community impact [of a casino] is going to be on an economy," and that if opponents want such a study they should pay for it themselves ("Casino report defended," Associated Press, Tuesday).
Cost-benefit analysis is a standard and reliable procedure that has been used by government and industry for more than 30 years. Imagine if a slaughterhouse or major airport were proposed for western Massachusetts and Senator Rosenberg said he supported it because it would create thousands of jobs, but all the other impacts were ignored.
Would the senator say that if the people affected wanted to know the future impacts on their communities they should pay for a study themselves?
If there ever was proof needed that politicians determined to rely on gambling revenues will shift from being gambling regulators to becoming gambling promoters, Senator Rosenberg's attitude ought be Exhibit One.
(Robert Goodman is former director of the U.S. Gambling Research Institute and the author of "The Luck Business." He teaches at Hampshire College.
"Women in my caseload would often tell me they had no money to spend on food or clothes because their husbands or boyfriends had lost it gambling. One woman said her husband threatened to beat her up if she told anybody about his gambling. She warned me, 'Don't come to the house. He's a violent man."
A violent man. I've experienced that. My father became addicted to higher-than-he-could-afford poker stakes and when my mother would object, he'd hit her. And when he tried to drown his sorrows in booze, he'd whack us kids, too. So I agree with Rep. Matthew Patrick (D-Falmouth), who told of his own father's addiction, that "we're destroying families" via gambling.
Casino proponents promise increased revenues, jobs and benefits. But they are unwilling to even study the scores of hidden costs which will very quickly eat away at any benefits the state sees - costs that will be passed on to taxpayers.
Take another look at Connecticut, which has higher taxes and more significant fiscal problems than Massachusetts - despite the promise of vast riches. Casinos haven't helped Connecticut and, rather, have hindered the economic development of host communities and neighboring areas. Connecticut's sales tax hasn't gone away, property taxes haven't gone down and the state hasn't been to balance its budget. Connecticut's elected leaders proposed solution to their economic problems is more gambling.
Approving casino legislation would require the House, Senate and governor to agree that the lives and families of approximately 40,000 new problem gamblers are disposable. And that, furthermore, the state will partner with casino owners in an aggressive and public campaign to encourage gambling.
Legislators argue that new casinos would produce temporary construction jobs and permanent casino jobs. But, like Walmart, they'll kill local-economy jobs and perpetuate the real economy's slow death-spiral.
To be honest, there's a part of me that likes the idea of a local entertainment venue - a place with live entertainment, upscale restaurants, and a nice mall. But, as a priest and pastor, I would come in contact with people whose lives would be destroyed by that sort of entertainment venue. And I would probably officiate at the funerals of people who took their own lives because they couldn't stop themselves from heading up to the North End of town every weekend.
I believe my grandfather would be clear on this point - building a casino is not the right thing to do.
In case you haven't heard of it, Warren is a small town just off the Mass. Pike in central Massachusetts. Like Milford, Warren is being considered as a resort casino site. In early May, the Casino Study Committee held an open forum. Invited speakers were Bill Haase, former Ledyard, Conn., town planner; Michael Finkelstein, Ledyard executive police officer, and Marcia Vlaun, Montville, Conn., planning director.
It's no surprise that Haase reported an increase in traffic when Foxwoods opened. What is surprising is the enormity of the increase. Traffic studies predicted traffic that would equal that of a major shopping mall. Instead, according to Haase, "about everybody in southern New England showed up." Traffic was backed up into neighboring towns and the traffic engineer was heard saying "Oh, my God" over and over again.
Traffic on the main route in Ledyard increased by 249 percent between 1988 and 1996. Local roads have also been affected because people who know the area use them to get to the casino.
As gambling interests gain a foothold in our state economy at the expense of positive economic activity, the predators gain power with our government. Our representatives become less interested in our common good. A 2009 Rockefeller Institute report found that casinos contribute to state's fiscal meltdowns. There is no reason to believe that it would somehow be different in Massachusetts.
The casino debate shows DeLeo still playing the part of the two-bit committee chairman. DeLeo has yet to fully grasp that the speaker's office is a statewide position. Here he is, about to dramatically reshape the state's economic landscape, and he's obsessing over his district, his neighborhood guys, the tracks he grew up visiting. From the beginning, he has been out to get a piece of the action for his two tracks. And now he's on the cusp. Once he opens that door, though, he should watch out - that's when things get interesting.
As I see it, the heart and soul of New Bedford is its work ethic. Work hard and succeed. That is the creed of the fishermen. That is the creed of the factory worker. That is the creed of the health care workers at Southcoast Hospitals and the employees at Acushnet Company and the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center and so many other local companies. That has been the creed on which New Bedford's economic engine has always been based.
Gambling is based on the fiction that you can get something for nothing. On that is based the most incredible profit-making engine, taking money from people who get almost nothing in return. It makes selling bottled water seem like a low-profit activity. And those profits would leave New Bedford on a fast train.
Yes, this is the Through-the-Looking-Glass logic that prevails among those we have elected to represent us, to guard the public purse, to make sure that the billions of dollars we send them each year are spent prudently and efficiently.
Instead they tax us to exhaustion, and then upbraid us when we object by telling us we "can't have something for nothing."
But even that is never enough. So, with unemployment high, people "under water" with their mortgages and high credit card debt, what is the solution here in progressive Massachusetts, home of undying empathy and compassion for "hard-working people" and "the less fortunate"?
Seduce even more money away from them, through more gambling.
A casino performance venue isn't simply competition to a nonprofit performing arts center like The Hanover Theatre - it's an 800-pound gorilla. And this gorilla doesn't play by the same rules. A resort casino's performance venue is considered a loss leader, a way to get people through the door to gamble.
Normally the state at least pretends to care about us: No cigarettes in public venues! No candy in school vending machines! No roughhousing at recess! No trans fats in restaurant meals!
But in this shameless push to capitalize on a merciless addiction, it has abandoned all pretense of caring and readily admitted its only allegiance is to the Almighty Dollar, consequences be damned.
Something is very wrong when the state has a rooting interest in the misery of its citizens.
"We've reached midnight in the moral order," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, describing it as "a time when nothing's absolutely right and nothing's absolutely wrong because the majority opinion is, 'Everybody's doing it, so it must be OK.' "
"New revenue," though, is just casino-speak for a new tax: a sucker tax on those willing to plunk down cash on tables tilted sharply toward the pit bosses. A sucker tax on those willing to sit at slot machines ergonomically designed to keep players in thrall of the lights and levers for hours at a time - complex algorithms creating the illusion of near-victory as wallets empty.
The Lottery math won't work here, either. A 10 percent hit to the Lottery from gambling competition would equal an $80 million loss to communities. Subtract $30 million for a new "Gaming Commission" filled with hundreds of new state employees to audit, oversee, and regulate casinos. Then subtract the huge social costs of addiction: crime, bankruptcy, family disintergration, foreclosure, and subsidized health care.
Barrow's work is exceptionally important to casino proponents across Massachusetts. It's imperative people realize he has a personal stake in the outcome - and let their elected officials know it, too.
Yet, there are some elected officials in our community who have made up their minds even before any legislation has been written or any Host Community Agreement has been negotiated with a potential developer. The proposals for slots and casinos in the legislature have changed multiple times, just within the last 18 months. Many of the assumptions that could have been made with some degree of accuracy a little over a year ago, are now completely irrelevant.
Job creation and security; a casino developer's ability and willingness to mitigate impacts on the host community; and sustained real estate values of a host community are just a few of the many formerly assumed attributes of a casino, that may not be typical as our economy changes.
These and many other issues that are important in the drafting of and passage of any gambling casino legislation. Why would we want our state legislators signing petitions forcing legislation that hasn't been written or properly crafted?
Why would we expect our legislators to risk our future, just to hop on some political bandwagon that may lead our community and the region onto a bridge to nowhere?
Slot machines - the financial backbone of casinos, and the only hope that dog track owners have for survival in the aftermath of the State referendum ending dog racing in Mass. - are not a benign alternative to Bingo and the Lottery that proponents and the gambling industry would have us believe.
Citing the "detrimental effects of casino gambling on public health," the Maine Medical Association, voted unanimously in 2003 to oppose opening a gambling casino in Maine. In 2006, the Mass. Public Health Association came out in opposition to legalizing slot machines and video lottery terminals "because of the health risks to the population associated with problem gambling."
In opposing legalization of slot machine gambling in 2006, Marylou Sudders, former Mass. Department of Mental Health Commissioner and current President/CEO of the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, wrote that "there is a stunning volume of research available on the adverse effects of gaming on children..."
At Lincoln in northern Rhode Island, the Twin River slot parlor is in bankruptcy, with debts nearly 10 times the assets, according to the Providence Journal - again a case of exorbitant expansion.
For Rhode Island, this is a serious matter because gambling is the third largest source of state revenue. If new owners of Twin River can be found, they will surely want to cut the state's 60 percent share of slots revenue. They also will certainly want to expand into a full-fledged casino, right at the edge of Massachusetts.
Among the losers at Twin River are Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, who had been supporting the Mashpee Wampanoag's effort to establish a billion-dollar casino in Middleboro. It's not entirely clear, but that support seems to have ended.
An industry that depends on creating addiction as a business model is not one we need ("Builders chomp at bit for casino OK," Sept. 22). An industry whose business model depends on 10 percent of its customers to produce 90 percent of its profit does not create economic growth. Because predatory gambling sucks discretionary income from the local area, it destroys small business, the lifeblood of job creation. New Jersey has 1,500 state employees dedicated to oversight of the casino industry. How much will that cost the commonewealth? Would we allow a toy on the market that injured 5 percent of children?
"Our state finances are in such rotten shape that slots will be a much easier sell than they were just a year ago.
And an army of expensive lobbyists, many of whom watched Monday's hearing, has been deployed to make sure lawmakers follow through."
"It's important for voters to understand how these machines work. Every feature of a slot machine -- its mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics -- is calibrated to increase a gambler's "time on device" and to encourage "play to extinction," which is industry jargon for playing until all your money is gone. The machines have evolved from handles and reels to buttons and screens, from coins to credit cards, from a few games a minute to hundreds. Inside, complicated algorithms perform a high-tech version of "loading the dice" -- deceptions no self-respecting casino would ever allow in table gambling. The machines are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology, and they do it well. In the eyes of the gaming industry, this may look like success, but it comes at great expense for gamblers."
"Last year, like many people, I was not opposed to the introduction of casinos to Massachusetts. I had only my personal experience of going to Las Vegas on business where, after playing a slot machine for about 20 minutes, I had given the casino $60 and had nothing to show for it."
"Independently owned restaurants are especially hard hit. Drawing on amble data from regions around the country that have introduced casino gambling, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association estimates that casinos would force the closure of about 200 restaurants in the state."
"But even if we accept the dubious notion that casinos would be revenue-generators, surely gambling is not the only option for a state in financial trouble. Surely we can shore up the state budget without creating thousands of additional gambling addicts, without destroying thousands of families."
Rural Casinos Leave a Huge Carbon Footprint
by George Bachrach,president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts
and Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation
Appearing in the Boston Globe
February 11, 2008
"If Massachusetts sites these mega-resorts in remote locations, a lot more people will be racking up highway miles, giving an unwelcome boost to automobile-generated greenhouse gas emissions - the state's fastest-growing contributor to global warming. All of this comes at a time when we need to be strengthening our towns and cities rather than promoting sprawl."
"Not every person who uses slot machines, crap tables, or roulette wheels, or plays poker, keno, bingo, or baccarat will find organized-crime thugs on their doorsteps. Many, unfortunately, will. Worse, they will find something more treacherous and insidious than three guys with a meat cleaver. They will ruin their lives and the lives of their families."