I of III:
Casino Gambling is 'Hot' This Year
Legislators Think It Will 'Solve' Their Problems;
With the state scrambling to close
a $650 million budget gap and a possible $3
billion deficit next fiscal year, there is
grow-ing sentiment on Beacon Hill to "solve"
their problems by legal-izing casino gambling
and slot machines. This promises to be a hot
issue in coming months.
But Is It Good For Massachusetts?
Gov. Romney says we should copy Foxwoods if
it will make money for Beacon Hill. Others say
they see more important considerations.
Some at the State House
believe that casinos could infuse the state budget
with hundreds of millions of dollars a year, as well
as provide money and jobs for surrounding communities.
Critics retort that there is no guarantee that casino
gambling will rake in windfall profits, and it may
well hurt the Lottery and local businesses. There
are also social costs. They say that the proliferation
of casinos will lower the quality of life in Massachusetts.
Also, the poor and elderly will be enticed to gamble
away their meager funds. Crime and corruption will
increase, and families will be hurt through moral
decline, increased gambling addiction, bankruptcies,
domestic violence and divorce.
The Republican minority leader in the House, Rep.
Brad Jones (R-North Reading), has filed what he calls
"the most comprehensive gaming legislation ever."
It would establish a gaming commission, permit two
commercial casinos, facilitate a deal with the Indians
and allow a total of 1,250 slot machines at dog and
Rep. Christopher P. Asselin (D-Springfield) calls
for a total of three casinos to be located near Boston,
Worcester and Springfield. Meanwhile, a bill filed
by the Dean of the House, Rep. David Flynn (D-Bridgewater),
calls for 1500 slot machines at each of the four racetracks
in Massachusetts. There are other bills in the pipeline
but most are not numbered yet.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Martha's Vineyard is exploring
possible casino sites up to a thousand acres in size
in southeastern Mass. The Nipmuc Tribe of central
Mass. is also interested in opening a casino if they
can win federal recognition.
Voters in the depressed city of Holyoke want to be
first in line for a casino. They passed a non-binding
ballot question last November in favor of a casino
for gambling in their city.
Sen. Linda J. Melconian (D-Springfield) told the Swift
gambling commission at a public hearing that Hampden
County "must" have a casino if Massachusetts
takes that route. She filed legislation that would
direct 10 percent of the state's share of casino revenues
to local development projects.
An eagerly awaited study by the Swift Administration's
gambling commission concluded that the expansion of
legalized gambling has the "potential to provide
substantial new revenues to help fund state and local
services," and could produce significant economic
development. The Commission, however, advised that
a careful cost/benefit assessment of the social and
economic risks should be undertaken before proceeding.
The Romney Administration floated a proposal that
would auction gaming rights in Massachusetts to out-of-state
casino and track operators with the understanding
that casinos would never be built here. The theory
is that the gaming establishments in neighboring states
would be happy to pay up to $20 million each for the
assurance of not having to compete with Massachusetts.
There has been no interest so far. In fact, Rockingham
Park in Salem, New Hampshire, said it would not pay
"extortion money" to Massachusetts.
Although it has taken the
Swift report under consideration, the Romney Administration
is conducting its own gambling review that is due
in early April. The Administration has said it is
not opposed to gambling in principle, but is interested
in expanding gambling if significant revenue could
The Governor and leaders of the House and Senate haven't
expressed any principled objections to casino gambling.
Their attitude so far seems to be, "Show me the
Governor Romney has said in the past that he would
be willing to look at legalizing casinos if it pays
significant revenue to the state. A spokesperson tells
MassNews that Romney hasn't reached a decision yet,
but is studying the pros and cons of the issue. She
says the recent proposal leaked through an aide that
would ban casinos in exchange for cash, is not a front-runner,
but just one of many ideas on the table. Observers
say the leaked proposal may be a sign that casino
revenue projections do not look too good, and Romney
may be backing off the idea of expanded gambling.
Spokeswoman for Senate President Robert Travaglini,
Ann Dufresne, tells MassNews that gambling proposals
are complex and need to be thoroughly examined, but
all options are on the table to create revenues. Travaglini,
who has two racetracks in his district, is reportedly
in favor of slot machines for the tracks and a full-service
casino that would be run by an Indian tribe.
House Speaker Tom Finneran, who has opposed expanded
gambling in the past, has reportedly softened his
position. Charlie Rasmussen, a spokesman for Finneran,
tells MassNews the Speaker has consistently taken
two positions on this issue that he admitted are somewhat
contradictory. One position is that these economic
times force everything to be on the table; however,
he also feels that we have the most successful Lottery
in the nation, if not the world, which brings in hundreds
of millions of dollars for cities and towns annually.
The speaker has to be convinced that there is something
in casinos and slots that will make more money for
Massachusetts, he says.
Clearly, there is growing momentum for casino gambling
and Massachusetts can expect to see some debate over
the issue on Beacon Hill. The Swift Gambling Commission
in the introduction to their report summed up the
present situation like this: "It is safe to say
that gambling has ascended to the point where it is
part of mainstream culture. The dual attractions of
recreation and revenues appear to be driving this
ascendancy. The difficult task facing our policymakers
is developing a structure that provides economic balance
along with social and cultural control.