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Crunch time for Massachusetts gambling debate

Massachusetts is on the brink of opening the door to expanded gambling. A conference committee of six legislators, three House members and three Senators, is working to reach agreement on a bill, with legislation expected to emerge any day. The House endorsed a bill in April that would license three full casinos and allow slot machines at the state’s four race tracks. The Senate followed by passing a bill earlier this month to license three casinos but no slots-only facilities. Gov. Patrick favors casinos but not slot licenses for race tracks. What should the final legislation look like? Should we be approving expanded gambling at all? What sorts of ethical issues are involved in the decision?


Slots mean instant jobs and tax revenue

  

David Flynn is a Democratic
state representative from Bridgewater



The number one issue for me in terms of expanded gambling – and in particular the licensing of slot machines – has always centered on jobs. And this year, in the midst of a severe recession, the jobs factor is more important than ever.

For more than a decade now, since my return to the House of Representatives following tours of duty in the Dukakis and King administrations, I have been working in favor of legislation to save and grow the gaming industry in my district in southeastern Massachusetts.

Raynham Taunton Park is located in one of my district communities. It has been a good neighbor and a contributing partner to Raynham and surrounding communities for more than 60 years. Several years ago more than 800 area residents worked at Raynham, many in part-time jobs, but virtually all of them receiving health care benefits. In addition to the wagering taxes paid by the track to the state, the town of Raynham received almost $1 million a year in property taxes.

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The time to act is now



Robert Haynes is president
of the
Massachusetts AFL-CIO.



Our nation’s severe economic recession and the ongoing jobs crisis have changed the context of many policy debates. We face times unlike those that anyone has faced since the Great Depression; now, more than ever, it is imperative for our leaders to take bold steps that will help assure job creation and sustained revenues.

There is a piece of pending legislation that seems all but guaranteed to create a substantial number of good jobs and generate significant public revenues. That legislation centers on expanded gaming here in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, nearly 6 out of 10 adults do not hold a college degree. The recession has exacerbated the already frightening trend of blue-collar job loss, and unemployment remains the nation’s most pressing short-term problem.

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The ethics of risk in the gambling debate


Rev. Richard McGowan, S.J., is a professor at the Carroll School of Management and economics department at Boston College.  He has written extensively on the effects of expanded gambling and serves on the board of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.  His latest book on the gambling industry is The Gambling Debate.



The metaphor of ships passing through the night is perhaps overused, but in discussing how the two sides of the gambling debate view each other it is appropriate. The key to this misunderstanding is the concept of risk. The term “risk” is derived from the Italian risco or rischio, which implies both the danger that one is taking and the venture that one is embarking on. It was first used in the Renaissance mercantile world to describe the situation faced by sailors and the owners of ships as they sailed the dangerous waters around Africa and the Americas in the adventurous search for precious cargo that could be sold in Europe. The word then slowly moved into everyday language, especially describing strategies behind gambling and warfare.

So risk involves two elements: danger and venture. Both have to be balanced when an individual or society decides whether the risk is a wise choice. Certainly this is the situation that describes gambling. There are the dangers that are associated with gambling activity such as addiction, bankruptcies, and other social costs. But there is also the entertainment/adventure of placing bet, which is clearly part of human nature.

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Responsibility rests with Patrick


Kathleen Conley Norbut is president of
United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.

 



 Scott Harshbarger, senior counsel at Proskauer,
was the Massachusetts Attorney General from 1991 to 1999.



Last week on Beacon Hill, a handful of reporters were joined by a few state representatives and a state senator with the temerity to practice democracy. The group sought to observe negotiations of the House and Senate conference committee on casino gambling. The senator, reps and media were summarily ejected by the bipartisan committee that now holds the future of the Commonwealth in its hands. It was just the latest insult in a flawed legislative process over legalizing casinos that will come to some type of conclusion in the next two weeks.

We question why the Legislature has refused to calculate the inherent costs that accompany legalizing expanded predatory gambling. These are major fiscal and public policy decisions that have not been vetted with a balanced, independent review. It is unfortunate that proponents have hidden behind the cry for desperately needed jobs and revenues as their justification for these mistaken and costly ventures without ensuring that essential public protections are in place, without up-to-date, objective, hard economic and job data, and without recognizing the real costs, the inflated promises, and the impact of the gambling industry’s political influences on Beacon Hill. Citizens have seen their voices muted by the drumbeat of special interests and the lobbyist proliferation in the State House since Gov. Deval Patrick announced his support for casinos three years ago.

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Broken promises and changed deals



Sue Tucker is a Democratic
state senator from Andover.


 



When asked whether or not Massachusetts should have casino gambling, people inevitably imagine one or two fancy Connecticut-style resorts somewhere far away from their neighborhood. Sadly, once the Legislature and governor go all-in on legalizing slot machines, the landscape changes.

Regardless of the number of casinos or racinos allowed under legislation, the taxation rate set through the legislative process, or the proposed consumer and workplace protections, the deals will change. They always do. Most states that open their door to casinos find that the promises made by the casino industry are broken. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the promised “resort” most certainly has its predatory slot machines, but the promised hotel is a big hole in the ground resembling the former Filene’s in Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

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