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

Not quite dead enough

The good news is that Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three casinos in Massachusetts will be defeated later today (Globe story here; Herald story here). What matters now is that any plans to bring casinos here remain properly dead and buried.

Which brings me to this story in yesterday’s Brockton Enterprise. Alice Elwell reports that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe continues with its efforts to bring the world’s largest casino to Middleborough, unveiling plans for a gambling emporium of three or four floors and an adjacent hotel that could be as high as 18 stories. And get this: Apparently that’s not as bad as had been expected.

The Mashpee can’t go ahead with a casino — or, at the very least, will face daunting obstacles — unless the state legalizes what’s called Class III gambling. So the House’s pending vote against Patrick’s proposal is key. Without Class III gambling, the Mashpee could only build a glorified bingo hall. And, as the Cape Cod Times has reported, the feds seem determined to scale back such operations, as video bingo has morphed into just another form of slot machines.

What could change all that is if the House, having taken a principled stand against the governor, now turns around and allows the state’s financially ailing racetracks to install slot machines. Elected officials are reportedly under a lot of pressure to allow “racinos,” as they would be known.

There are two problems. First, racinos are just a bad idea, bringing with them the same social ills as casino gambling, if on a smaller scale. Second, they would require state approval of Class III gambling, thus opening the door to Native American casinos such as the one proposed for Middleborough.

Not that there’s much likelihood of a casino’s ever being built in Middleborough. Federal approval could take years, and there were so many problems with the miserable way that the selectmen’s deal with the Mashpee was approved that opponents should be able to keep it tied up for a long, long time.

But the right answer to expanded gambling is “no,” and it’s important that state officials keep that in mind. House Speaker Sal DiMasi deserves our gratitude for using his muscle for the good of the commonwealth. Now’s not the time to go all flabby.

Finally, let me venture into the treacherous “what’s my solution?” debate. It’s a phony construct, but it’s one Patrick himself keeps bringing up. I’m not going to talk specifics. I’ll only point out that the state and local tax burden in Massachusetts is ranked 28th nationally — about average. It’s neither outrageously high nor dangerously low.

Given that, a reasonable person might think that any budget shortfall we face could be solved with spending cuts, perhaps a modest tax increase and a determination to live within our means. Not very sexy, and nothing for huge new spending programs. But there you have it.

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  1. Steve

    Echos of Jerry Williams once again.In addition to railing against the seat belt law and hectoring Michael Dukakis, Williams spoke often against the installation of slot machines at racetracks. His opposition was based on the fact that the benefit would go to a very few well-connected racetrack owners, at the expense of Mom and Pop lottery and Keno outlets.He was of the same mind about Native American casinos – the benefit would go to a very small number of casino owners at the expense of the quality of life for the rest of us in the Commonwealth. He went so far as to propose a mythical tribe – the Schmohawks – so the benefits of such casinos could be spread around.And in the small world department, I was just Googling for a story about the famous Vietnam vet call to Williams, and came up with this link. That’s a back story I never knew about until now.

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, I’m the one who commented on (and clumsily listed) DiMasi’s alternative proposals for revenue growth yesterday. They are many and varied, and are the kinds of things I as a progressive Democrat fully support. Why is Gov. Patrick getting away with accusing casino opponents of having no good ideas of their own?DiMasi for governor!

  3. Man who is not a casino fan

    Given that, a reasonable person might think that any budget shortfall we face could be solved with spending cuts, perhaps a modest tax increase and a determination to live within our means. Not very sexy, and nothing for huge new spending programs. But there you have it.That’s very reasonable, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s particularly true.Mind you, I am NO fan of casinos and would fight them with my dying breath…but what’s happened over the last 20-odd years is that people have been lulled into a false sense of security while critical programs have been dangerously and consistently underfunded.The two big ones that immediately come to mind are transportation infrastructure and health care. Both things that require painfully expensive solutions that no politician has had the stones to force into effect when the pain might not have been as great. Well the chicken’s come home to roost and now Massachusetts…like most other states…has billions (probably more like tens or even hundreds of billions over time) of dollars of obligations it cannot afford to pay.Mind you, I suspect that Massachusetts will remain in the middle of the pack when it comes to tax rates…but only because they – like every single other state – will be jacking the tax rates through the roof just to pay for the essentials.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Man Who: I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I do know that you can raise a lot of dough with a small increase in the gas tax and a big increase in the cigarette tax. Health care is a huge problem, but — not to engage in public employee-bashing — you simply can’t keep demanding that taxpayers shoulder 80 or 90 percent of their insurance costs when they have to pay a far larger share of their own coverage.

  5. io saturnalia

    Transportation infrastructure has been underfunded? Let me introduce you to the Big Dig.The point isn’t the lack of dollars, per se, it’s the way those dollars were spent.That being said: The government will never cut spending a bit and start living within its means unless the taxpayers 1. demand it, via actually paying attention and using their knowledge at the voting booth and 2. actually start cutting spending and living within their means themselves. So far, not much sign of either thing happening.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Io: Well, that’s right. It can’t be said enough. The Big Dig chewed up enough transportation money for the next 50 years. Those combination tunnels/canals don’t come cheap.

  7. Anonymous

    Dan, as a state employee, I’m willing to have an increase in my health care premiums as part of an overall package, and the governor has proposed this. But fixing all the “gripes” that people complain about won’t fix the budget, as you sort of implied in your first comment. There’s a lot of moving parts to this problem. (Some of the gripes, like the MDC and welfare reform, have been addressed over the past 20 years).And secondly, wouldn’t the Mashpee settle for a “glorified bingo hall” if they can’t get slot machines? They’d still get a substantial sum from people sitting around at a table placing their “beans” on a little card, if they offered sizeable payouts.

  8. Gladys Kravitz

    Anon 4:31It is unlikely the Mashpee Wampanoags will open a class II bingo hall. The intergovernmental agreement between the Tribe and Middleboro stipulates 200 Million in infrastructure payments before even a class II facility can be built on that property. With the world’s two largest casinos less than two hours away offering real slots, it’s unlikely that there would be an adequate return on investment to justify this payout. In class II slots, the players play each other, not the house, so big payoffs are not an option. These facilities did well in Florida because there were no casinos offering slots for 400 miles. Also, these type of slots are currently undergoing regulatory scrutiny which may change the way they are made, rendering them even less lucrative.

  9. Anonymous

    Years ago, in CT, the state fought tooth and nail against the tribal gambling. I think much of it took place during the administration of Lowell Weiker as governor, in the late 80s. First they won the right to run high stakes bingo, then after years of legal battles all the way up to the Supreme Court, the right to Foxwoods was won. I don’t see anything stopping the Mashpee’s drive for a casino, except the possibility that the feds will say ‘sure. you want a casino, have it on your existing property, not a conveniently located Middleboro tract’. So, the only question seems to be location. Although I am opposed to any casinos at all, I wonder, if given their seeming inevitability, wouldn’t the state be better off entering into some arrangement with them before, rather than after the fact?

  10. Anonymous

    Gladys rocks!

  11. Anonymous

    Anon. 6:44, you have some catching up to you. That is very unlikely to happen as long as Mass. does not approve Class III slots. That’s the pandora’s box and another reason why today’s defeat of the governor’s plan is so important. (And it’s also why it’s important to oppose Class III slots at the tracks.)

  12. Sean Roche

    Can’t be said enough: increase the gas tax. Ten cents would put us in line with neighbors New York and Rhode Island and provide something on the order of $300+ million in revenue.Grown-ups don’t look for ways to get other people (casino patrons) to pay the bills. We take care of our own responsibilities. Those of us who drive on the roads and bridges that are in need of repair ought to be the ones picking up the tab.

  13. Gladys Kravitz

    Anon 6:44Please, there is nothing inevitable about a Mashpee Wampanoag casino except that people will continue to spout the “inevitability” word over and over and over. In CT, the Governor gave them tribe level III slots to cover a budget shortfall, incurring wrath from the legislature. I suspect that would not happen in this State. CT was NOT ordered by the Federal Government to give the Tribe slots.Casino investors are counting on those who keep saying a casino is inevtitable to pave the road to a casino for them.

  14. Anonymous


  15. Anonymous

    Don’t want a casino?You need to oppose land into trust, it’s the major step that tribes need to build one. How can you help?Write a letter of oppostition to the Secretary of the Interior.Go to for help.P.S. you don’t have to live in Middleboro to fight the (not) inevitable casino.

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