By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Spending the same money twice

Gov. Deval Patrick may be conjuring up visions of casino riches for the state, but it’s not necessarily so. Numbers are slippery, of course, and a skilled advocate can make them stand up and bark on command. But state Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, a casino opponent who’s been studying the issue for more than a decade, makes a compelling case for why Patrick’s fondest desires are unlikely to come true.

At a forum this morning sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), Bosley said that Patrick is depending on money that is already being spent for other purposes. According to various studies, between 30 percent and 70 percent of money spent on casino gambling is nothing more than an “economic transfer.” (David Kravitz live-blogged the event at Blue Mass. Group.)

“Even though you’ve created a new revenue source … it’s not new revenue,” Bosley said. “I think it is very disappointing that the governor has decided to do this.” Later, he added: “It’s not new money. It’s just rearranging money.” And money that is spent on casino gambling may be money that isn’t spent at local restaurants and other small businesses.

More than 100 people crowded into a function room at the Omni Parker House for the nearly two-hour event, with television cameras lined up in the back of the room. With the governor making his unfortunate announcement yesterday, casino gambling has become the top issue on Beacon Hill.

Nothing particularly surprising was said. Joining Bosley on stage were state Treasurer Tim Cahill, who repeated his well-known support for casino gambling, which he explained most recently in an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe today. The third speaker, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College economist and casino expert, offered analysis.

It was an in-depth, civil discussion of an issue that has often become obscured by the vehemence with which many of the combatants express their views. (I am definitely not excluding myself.)

Another challenge was raised by state Sen. Susan Tucker, D-Andover. After offering some numbers on the state’s already-high dependence on gambling revenues from the lottery (numbers that were disputed with surprising vehemence by Father McGowan), Tucker noted that there are two racetracks in New Hampshire just over the border from her district.

According to Tucker, New Hampshire legislators have told her that they currently have no interest in building casinos — but that they would seek to transform those racetracks into casinos if gambling venues in Massachusetts began eating into their business. Worse, she observed, New Hampshire might tax its casinos at a lower rate than Massachusetts, which could then force Massachusetts to do the same.

“The fact is that this is an industry that depends on addiction for its revenues,” Tucker said, expressing puzzlement over the argument put forth by Patrick, Cahill and others that money from casino gambling would be set aside to help chronic gamblers with their addiction. “If a medication harms three people, we take it off the shelves,” she said.

At one point, Cahill offered a familiar argument — that Native American tribes such as the Mashpee Wampanoags, who propose building an enormous casino in Middleborough — have a right under federal law to operate casinos, and that the state should get ahead of the issue in order to protect its own interests.

“Even if we’re saying no, we’ve got two Indian tribes that are pushing very hard,” he said.

But Bosley said he “disagree[d] strongly with that,” explaining that federal decision-makers must, under the law, take into consideration where the state stands on casino gambling. Bosley added that the state’s leverage to stop tribal casinos from coming to Massachusetts was undermined considerably by Patrick’s announcement. “We’ve just blown that,” he said.

Of course, in order to become law, Patrick’s proposal must pass muster with the Legislature. And though it seems likely to win approval in the Senate, there’s a good chance it will die in the House. Speaker Sal DiMasi is a longtime opponent of casino gambling, and Bosley is one of his lieutenants.

Bosley said the House would give Patrick’s bill — not yet filed — serious consideration. But his remarks suggested that he can’t wait to kill it, and that he’s confident he’s got the votes. “There’s nothing new in the governor’s proposal,” Bosley said, noting that previous gambling plans have also come with promises of endless wealth for the state, and that the House has defeated every one of them — and by increasing margins over the years.

No doubt the pressure to approve gambling will be greater this time, especially with proposals for steep transportation taxes (Globe; Herald) looming. But there are plenty of people and institutions who’ve come out against gambling, too. At the moment, there’s no reason to think that House members won’t stick to their principles.

Still standing: The Herald’s Dave Wedge reports that Mashpee Wampanoag tribal-council president Shawn Hendricks wants to discuss the troubled Middleborough proposal with Patrick. This past Saturday, I linked to an item by Cape Cod Today blogger/reporter Peter Kenney claiming that Hendricks and two other tribal leaders would resign later that day. Obviously that didn’t happen.

That’s the problem with predictions. In fact, on Saturday a newspaper reporter asked me to predict what Patrick would say. I declined the invitation; but if I had taken her up on it, I would have said that Patrick would probably say “no.” I’m glad I kept my counsel.

Disclosure #1: I write the “Mass.Media” feature for MassINC’s quarterly magazine, CommonWealth.

Disclosure #2: Just click here.

Original photo online at state Treasurer Tim Cahill’s Web site. From left, Bosley, McGowan, Cahill and CommonWealth acting editor Michael Jonas, the moderator.

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  1. Anonymous

    It’s also important to remember in this debate that Patrick is styling casinos as a way to raise revenue for an ongoing function of government– so what happens 10 years from now, when we have three casinos but our revenue needs are still increasing? Will we build more? As much as I’m no fan of taxes, I do believe they’re the way to go to pay for ongoing costs, since they focus the public mind on exactly what we’re paying for and receiving. If we don’t want more taxes, we can cut spending. Personally, I’m furious that we’re talking about raising tolls and gas taxes, without first ending police flag details or the MBTA’s bloated pension rewards– and that’s exactly the sort of debate we should have on the subject. If we just throw three casinos up, we’ll never get around to debating our spending priorities.

  2. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Nothing makes me shudder more than hearing the complaints that the lottery need to be privatized or adopt new marketing strategies because of a “declining growth rate.” Once upon a time, the idea of gambling as a revenue source had appeal because “it’s just money that was going to the Mob.” But now government is dependent on gambling dollars; it’s no longer a mere diversion of funds being wagered anyway. Instead, in the name of each one of us, our government is “marketing” $20 instant-ticket sucker bets to people who can least afford it in order to increase “lottery revenue growth.” More dollars from more people is good, making the same money on gambling as we did last year — somewhere over $4 billion in sales –just isn’t growing enough.Despicable.

  3. Steve

    “Even though you’ve created a new revenue source … it’s not new revenue,” Bosley said. “I think it is very disappointing that the governor has decided to do this.” Later, he added: “It’s not new money. It’s just rearranging money.”I don’t get something.If I go to Foxwoods and drop a couple hundred dollars gambling and say 50 or so on dinner, Massachusetts gets nothing. If, a couple of years from now, I go to Bally’s on Buzzard Bay in New Bedford, Massachusetts will get a cut of my gambling losses and tax on the meal.Isn’t this “new money” to Massachusetts?

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Bosley also presented figures showing that most casino money is spent by people who live a short drive from the casino. Remember, he said 30 percent to 70 percent, not 100 percent.

  5. Anonymous

    Why do these announcements seem to indicate that the relief from the casino money will be immediate?Designing, permitting, economic and environmental impact studies, infrastructure work, plus building the casino(s) themselves – Mass will be hard pressed to see ANY money from this proposal until AFTER THIS governer is out of office…

  6. Anonymous

    Steve, in your hypothetical example, it’s not all new money because:1. Many who gamble at casinos also play the lottery. Losing a couple hundred at the casino cuts into your lottery budget.2. Some of the money you lose at the casino is money you could have and would have spent at other (more desirable) Mass. businesses – other entertainment venues, durable goods, whatever. The state loses that tax revenue while gaining its cut on your gambling losses. And the other (more desirable) businesses lose.3. You probably would have gone out to dinner that night anyway. The state still gets the meal tax, but some other restaurant loses your business.

  7. Steve

    Anon 3:58 – No, in my hypothetical example, as I stated, I would have driven to Foxwoods and gambled and had dinner there, and Massachusetts gets nothing.

  8. Steve

    There’s another point that I’ve read somewhere (probably here, but it bears repeating):Can Patrick say there will be only 3 casinos? Once casino gaming is allowed here, won’t any tribe be able to offer equivalent gaming on tribal lands? How many tribes are in the pipeline for recognition here?(Where’s Jerry Williams when we need him? Bring back the Schmohawks!)

  9. Anonymous

    Rob thy neighbor I thought was a sin? After attending yesterday’s MassINC event, this has apparently changed. I casino isn’t exactly a Robin Hood story now is it?Numbers confirm a casino takes income from the lower to middle class, in the area the casino is located, and our government redistributes to more affluent towns that will support then future campaigns. Now I understand why the wording has changed to economic development. I hope this truth will be on the cover of today’s newspaper. Unfortunately the truth doesn’t sell papers or get politicains elected. Thanks,M-

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