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

Controlling the casino-gambling narrative

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate president Therese Murray

CommonWealth Magazine’s Michael Jonas says that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, by focusing on the jobs that casino gambling would bring, is trying to control the narrative in a way that is not in accord with reality. (Boston Globe story on DeLeo’s proposal for two casinos and four racinos.) Jonas writes:

The battle over casinos is always a battle to control the narrative. If the narrative stays focused on jobs and putting people who are hurting and in real economic distress back to work, proponents win. If it’s about predatory gambling and the state partnering up with rich casino moguls to pick the pockets of the lower-income residents who will disproportionately be the ones dumping their paychecks into the slots DeLeo wants installed at the state’s four racetracks (two of which are in his Winthrop-based district), the prospects could get, well, dicey.

Jonas observes that compulsive-gambling rates double in areas where casinos are located — and that problem gambling isn’t just an unfortunate byproduct of casino (and racino) gambling, but part of the business model.

The great Gladys Kravitz surveys the landscape as well, and pronounces DeLeo’s speech yesterday to be a “trifecta”: (1) experts are already saying the racinos DeLeo envisons will have to grow into casinos in order to survive; (2) New Hampshire and Rhode Island officials responded by reviving their own casino plans; and (3) the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s fading hopes of building a casino in Middleborough got a jolt of life.

It’s an absolutely miserable situation. DeLeo, Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate president Therese Murray are all on record as supporting casinos. Patrick’s most plausible opponents in the governor’s race, Republican Charlie Baker and independent Tim Cahill, are pro-gambling as well.

United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts is where you can find out everything worth knowing about casinos and slot machines.

Photo (cc) allegedly by Martha Coakley, although I doubt she took it, and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. John Geoghegan

    I agree with your stance on gambling; here in Rhode Island, I’m already starting to hear the rumbling — 1/3 of RI’s revenues are due to gambling. The narrative will be, to protect that we’ll have to counter or move pre-emptively in reaction to Massachusetts. I’m predicting that Twin River will be a full-fledged casino by the end of next year, at the latest. They’ll be lip service to deal with the increased problem gambling — of course, creating the problem and then reacting to it . . . that’s logical.

  2. BP Myers

    I too would prefer not to have casinos, but the door to gambling was opened when the state began sponsoring a lottery, which spawns just as much problem gambling as casinos.

    Instead of moving forward with casinos, I’d love a debate on eliminating the lottery.

  3. Mike Benedict

    When our legislators discuss casinos and jobs in the same breath, it makes me wonder if they’ve been to Las Vegas lately. That city has been decimated. Gambling is not recession-proof. Neither are tourism or conventions. To say otherwise is to sell snake oil.

  4. Mike Stucka

    Mike Benedict’s comment intrigued me, so I took a look at Nevada’s gambling revenues. I’ve thought gambling is one of those things where passions and preconceptions and moral beliefs tend to rule the day, so I was legitimately interested in the numbers. (That, and I’ve heard housing speculators wreaked havoc in Vegas, more so than anywhere else, which is another interest.)

    At any rate, the final page of each document shows gambling revenues.

    Taxable revenues for Nevada 2009, 2008, 2007:
    $578m; $678m; $828m

    Taxable revenues for Clark County 2009, 2008, 2007:
    $476m; $566m; $689m.

    I didn’t go back further to examine longer trends. If I’m doing my math right, state taxable income dropped 30 percent over those three years.

  5. Al Fiantaca

    I’ve always sneered at the lottery as having someone else paying my fair share of taxes. Casino gambling is just more of the same. Analyses I have seen showed that the lottery is being played much more in poorer communities than in wealthier ones. Chelsea and Lawrence are footing the bill for Lynnfield and Lexington. I haven’t seen similar studies for casino players, but judging from the kind of people I’ve noticed getting on the casino buses, I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing isn’t in play there, too. I’m not sure, though, that the horse isn’t out of the barn as far as allowing casino gambling in MA. What will we accomplish by keeping it out, and what would the +/- be by allowing it?

  6. Steve Stein

    The state of Connecticut shows declines since 2006 as well, when General Fund revenue from gaming peaked. (The data is here in pdf form.)

    2006: $718M, 2007: $715M, 2008: $700M; 2009: $666M for about an 8% decline in revenues in over the past 3 years. Interestingly, all of that decline is a result of decreased revenue from the tribal casinos. Lottery revenue has been steady over the period.

  7. “That city has been decimated” is a bit much. MGM just last month finished the largest private construction project in the history of man (City Centre). Can anyone name a building of significance that has been built around here of late? (Not counting another CVS).. Has Vegas been hurt? Ya, does somebody know a market/location that isn’t hurting, hasnt been effected? It’s debt service that is hurting most of these places. Entire school board retirement accounts have been detroyed by the stock market, and you are worried about a little gaming? Please, spare me. It’s not the few gamblers how have problems that is the issue, it’s the states getting hook on the revenue. You’re looking at the problem backwards.

  8. P A Giguere

    I must admit: I’m on the fence over bringing casinos into the Commonwealth. I’d be more inclined to want to see some hard data, some numbers, and predictions or-absent even this much-I’d consider some (reasonably) educated hunches. There’s been a lot of talk about bringing much needed jobs (though that is a relevant statement) and boost the state’s revenue. And that’s all well and good. But what I haven’t heard is what kind of jobs? What-if any-experience/ qualifications will be needed to get a job? Do we expect the power brokers who will be supplying the funding (the taxpayers are NOT in this group) and OUR state government to“do what is best” for the residents? Please!! In Massachusetts?

    Do not misunderstand; I am not anti-gambling. I “donate” some of my meager disposable income to the Commonwealth-on a regular basis, I might add-for the daily/weekly games. And I’ve scratched my fair share of tickets. And yes, I’ve had some small measure of luck. But that’s all it is: LUCK. However, when I do so, I remind myself to spend only that which I can afford to lose. And I trust that many, many others do so as well. But there are still many others who do the opposite. Yes, I know, it’s their problem if they can’t control themselves. They shouldn’t be gambling if they can’t afford it. And you’d be correct: some of the time, anyway.

    But in between the chronic gamblers, casual gamblers, the few lucky ones and those power broker, is a sector of the population who are very hard-working everyday John & Jane Doe’s who are struggling to even tread water. They hear about Joe Smith who scratched a major winning ticket. I’ve not talking about the Mega Millions. Maybe just ten grand even. Winning enough to afford his family a better place to live. Maybe buy the Mrs. a REAL pair of diamond earrings or a new dress. Buy his kids two pairs of shoes. Get the car fixed. So the Doe’s buy a few tickets. They win fifty or hundred dollars between them and they figure: Hey! Maybe there’s a chance for me. So they begin to play more. One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see where this is going. It’s a house of cards. And that’s the point. I’m concerned that these casinos will be just a house of cards: for they will not be built on a solid foundation.

    With the economy the way it is, how can it possibly be sustained? Again I ask, what kind of jobs and how many and at what pay range will these casinos bring? Surely someone must have SOME idea? What kind of jobs will they offer in which someone can grow, advance, WANT to stay long enough to gain some seniority and-heaven forbid-maybe even retire from? Yes, call me a Pollyanna if you must, but I can’t understand why our state government isn’t putting as much effort into wooing some real industry to come here. We gave tax incentives to attract the movie business. Ask yourself, just what kind of jobs did they REALLY bring? And for how long and for how many? Is that what we want? A plethora of part-time, in short bursts &/or seasonal contract jobs? (If we do then we’re really going to need a national health/public option healthcare plan!)

    Not too many years ago, people stayed with an employer ten, fifteen, twenty even thirty years. Yes, that’s old fashion (or so I’m told). But it worked because we had real industry: Companies that manufactured something. Today two, three or four years at a job it doesn’t warrant even a second look on a resume. OK, OK unions played their part in this, I know. They got arrogant and greedy. But this is the twenty-first century, folks. Surely we’ve learned something. Haven’t we? We’ve become so polarized we’re coming apart at the seams. Wouldn’t it be better if we laid a solid foundation with industries that can offer us some much deserved long term employment where we can establish ourselves, grow, contribute, advance, gain much needed experience and maybe even get to retire from? Give us some definition of security? Doesn’t it follow that we would have more disposable income? Income that we would be more likely to “pass on” to a casino and only spend what we can afford to lose? Like I said, I’m being a Pollyanna. What do I know? I’m just a Jane Doe.

  9. Mike Stucka

    Bob Fontaine: My limited understanding is they had to finish MGM, because otherwise they had no revenues but substantial capital outlays.

    “Decimated” may be an appropriate term:

    “The least pain was felt in ZIP codes 89107 and 89123, which saw only a 10 percent depreciation in median home prices. On the high end were ZIP codes 89109 and 89146, down 60 percent and 57 percent, respectively, Las Vegas-based SalesTraq reported.”

    Decimated was when 1/10th of your force was killed (or executed, to be precise). The best-case was decimation of home sale prices in a single year. Check this out: “Prices peaked at $285,000 in 2006 and then dropped to $120,000 in August.”

    All *that* said, it would probably be a bad idea to pin all of Vegas’ decay on gambling. (Again, limited understanding, grain of salt, etc.) Vegas had been, er, placing bets on conferences and meetings (business and personal travel are both down); high-end shopping (discretionary); and tourism (also down).

  10. Mike Benedict

    Las Vegas is a unique American city. If not for the gambling, there is no reason to go. There is no monument, landmark or natural beauty there. It’s desert, a good five hours from the next major city. It’s unbearably hot in the summer, and colder than most realize in the winter.

    All of which makes it a perfect case study to study gambling. The CT casinos are close to the ocean and New York City. Reno has decent boating and skiing nearby. Atlantic City is on the ocean. Each has built-in interest points that Las Vegas lacks.

    Everything Las Vegas has to offer is an offshoot of its gambling empire. The major developers — Wynn, MGM, Columbia Sussex, etc. — either are bankrupt or are headed that way. The Ritz-Carlton has closed. Housing prices — a direct descendant of the booming gaming industry in the mid 2000s — have taken a tumble thanks to overbuilding and lack of buyer interest. Construction workers, lured to Vegas by the promise of $100,000 a year jobs and no income tax, are all around the town, out of money and opportunity. Unemployment in the construction sector hits 70% last year. Overall state unemployment was 13.3% in January — 37% higher than the nation at large. Such large unemployment rolls place even more stress on the state’s limited finances. Simply put, when the gambling dollars dry up, so does Nevada’s economy.

    So if we want to put “gaming” (industry jargon) under the microscope, Vegas is the closest subject to a vacuum we will get (Dubai is probably the best place to compare it to, and look what’s going on there). And based on the evidence, placing your bets on gambling will simply exacerbate economic problems in down markets. When it comes to gaming, the house (in this case, the state) always loses.

  11. I’ve been a real estate broker for 20 years Mike.. The fall of Vegas real estate was because for 10 years Vegas was the fastest growing region in the country. Prices took off to unrealistic heights. So it was magnified there. In 15 years, the value of my house HERE on Cape Cod went from 100k, to 400k, back to 300k. So if you want to use “real estate” values as a measure of Gaming’s failure, I am buying it. Speaking of which.. You buy your $400,000 home, then BORROW $320,000 with a 30 year mortage, effectively “Betting” that you will have stable employment for the next 30 years so you can pay the loan back, and the lender is party to the same “bet”.. Those loans are grouped together, put into buckets and sold to investors. Then YOUR 401k money that you “invested” is used to purchase those “Bets”… which is why were are where we are today.. Gambling. At least when i’m at the casino, or when Dan buys his weekly Megabucs ticket, we know were gambling, I hope to win but expect to lose.. but enjoy a little fun doing it.,, like when I sneak an ice cream when my dr tells me to staff of the fats.. i’ts called life, it’s a gamble. How has that Financial Market gambling been workimng out for us lately?

  12. “aint” buying it.

  13. Steve Stein

    @Mike – “Decimated” is when 90% of your force is killed – i.e. reduced to 1/10th of its original strength.

  14. BP Myers

    @Steve: Merriam-Webster disagrees.

  15. Steve Stein

    Huh. I stand corrected. Thank you.

  16. LFNeilson

    Why has gambling been illegal for such a long time? Is there a moral basis for the prohibition, maybe protecting gamblers against unfair odds? And why is the state now proposing to make it legal? It’s strange how the state can prosecute people for running a gambling operation, then turn around and run one itself. A little magic fairy dust and POOF! It’s okay now, folks! Come on in and lay your money down! It changes the state’s role from protecting suckers to exploiting them. Of course, the state will continue prosecuting illegal gambling operators, only now it’s turf protection.
    Either it’s moral or it isn’t. Stop playing games.

  17. Mike Benedict

    @Bob: Real estate’s dive is a byproduct — not a cause — of gaming’s ultimate failure to provide a stable, sustainable economy. Put another way, without the gaming industry to prop it up, Las Vegas’ real estate market would never have jumped so high, so fast. Likewise, with other industry to stabilize it, Las Vegas’ real estate market would never have crashed so hard, so fast.

  18. Mike Benedict

    @Bob: Btw, the Dow is up 63% over the past year, the S&P 500 is up 71%, and the Nasdaq composite is up 91%.

    That’s how the financial “bet” has been working out for us lately.

  19. 1st off Mike, I take issue with your description of Las Vegas.. Red Rock Mountains are 20 minutes from Vegas proper and are about the most amazing creatures of nature you will find.. Lake Mead, before the non-existant climate change, was a magnificent place to go, Hoover Dam is a great wonder.. You say the summer is too hot, I say i’m sick of snow. The northeast loses population, Vegas was the fastest growing for a decade… so while there may be no reason for YOU to go there, please dont paint me and millions of others with the same brush – thank you. I lived there and dealt dice and 21 for 4+ years. I ONLY visite the strip when I was working.. as is the case with many who live there. And Mike, I am not placing gaming up as being anyone’s answer to a “stable economy” – My point has always been that Massachusetts has gambling already, and it should be legal because it is, NOT that it should be someone’s silly answer to an economic problem. It obviously doesn’t CREATE wealth. As far as the Dow being up 63%, etc.. I hope it continues to go up. I derive no happiness from other people’s misfortune. Up 63% over historic drops.. gee, you must be easy to please. Too bad it costs us trillions in defecit spending to get there. People lost EVERYTHING, entire retirements where blown away in months. But as long as your bhappy Mike.

  20. Bill Hanna

    I don’t gamble, but I don’t mind if others do. I do think that it’s unwise–I’ll leave the morality of it to others–for a state to stake its economy on the weaknesses of people who find it hard to control a particular vice. That said, this is a done deal. Casinos, and probably racinos too, are on the horizon. Political arithmetic–and the “peculiarities” of the Speaker’s district–tells us that their time is fast approaching.

  21. Mike Stucka

    BP: Thanks.

    Steve: Wikipedia has some background on decimation.

    I think the basic problem with the word is alliteration. It’s too dang close to devastation, and people have confused the meanings enough that (much like affect/effect, insure/ensure) the wrong word is substituted and understood, or mis-misunderstood, far too often. (And don’t get me started on words like “niggardly” and “catholic” — at some point the “right” word adds confusion, not shared communicative values.)

    On a completely unrelated note, try the Harry Turtledove book “Household Gods” sometime.

    I now return you to the regularly scheduled blog and gambling/gaming discussion.

  22. Mike Stucka

    Oh, FWIW — some years back I took a graduate-level city planning econ course at Northeastern. The stellar prof, in her last class before retirement, explained the problem with Atlantic City, which as I understand it never really took off. It’s simple: Even with all that money flowing into the casinos, there’s not necessarily much flowing into the city itself; because those casinos have become so self-contained, with their own shopping malls and entertainment and restaurants, all the foot traffic basically bypasses the rest of the city core. That’s the way she explained it; I confess I haven’t been to Atlantic City in a few decades other than a train station.

    But when I think back to the couple times I went to Mohegan Sun, it seems to go with my experience then.

  23. Steve Stein

    @Mike – I read it already. Thanks. Funny how you can be “sure” about things that just aren’t true.

  24. Benjamin Rivard-Rapoza

    In New Bedford, the desire for more jobs is what drives support for casinos. I don’t think the prospect of higher gambling rates would necessarily make New Bedford residents flinch given this need. New Bedford is a city whose economic reason for existence disappeared long before the Great Recession. At this point people aren’t too picky about where new jobs and development come from.

  25. Mike Benedict

    Wow, Bob, all that Vegas heat has thinned your skin a bit.

    I’m very happy that you find Lake Mead and Red Rock the “most amazing creatures of nature you will find.” Personally, I prefer Giselle, but there’s no accounting for taste, is there?

    “You say the summer is too hot, I say i’m sick of snow.”
    You are mixing arguments there, Sun Baked. The average daily temperature in Vegas from June through August is over 100F, then it settles down to a tepid 95F in September. It doesn’t snow in Boston in the summer. (Not yet, anyway.)

    “The northeast loses population, Vegas was the fastest growing for a decade.”
    As I was saying … because of the easy and good money for modestly educated people that came about from the gaming industry.

    “Massachusetts has gambling already, and it should be legal because it is….”
    Wow, how does one argue with that? How does one even understand that?

    “Up 63% over historic drops.. gee, you must be easy to please. Too bad it costs us trillions in defecit spending to get there.”
    There you go again … voodoo economics rears its ugly head.

  26. Right, so you have great taste and anyone who differs is a fool. If you dont like the heat stay out of the kitchen. “Easy and good money that came about from the gaming industry”.. Now you’re starting to learn. M,y legal gaming point is that gaming IS legal in Massachusetts, we already bring in more per capita than any place in thw world, the real world or your fantasy world, period. The fact that you can put your name on statement that suggests how well the financial markets are says more about you than anything. What a joke. “Hey, yippy, we got some of our money back – look at how friggen smart I am”.

    NYT, 2 hours ago “Public pension funds are ‘going to Vegas’.

    “In effect, they’re going to Las Vegas,” said Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, which oversees public plans in that state. “Double up to catch up.”

    Oh by the way Mike, something tells me you got a better “chance” at enjoying the mountains of Red Rock and the valleys of Lake Mead than you do of enjoying Giselle, except in your sleep.

    Millions of people are wrong, foolish, uneducated of flat plan stupid, because Mike Benedict says so. AND WHO THE FRIG ARE YOU?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: You see what happens when you question the so-called logic of the casino-gambling interests. Interesting that @Bob would cite that New York Times story about public pensions. Anyone who reads it can see that it’s not going to end well.

  27. Dan, I certainly am not casino gambling interest. You probably gamble more often than me. I just think you’d be better of whining about the liquor industry, or smokes, or at least the lottery itself, before paiting this picture of comlete doom. “Anyone who reads it can see that it’s not going to end well”… Ahhh Ya Dan, that was kind of my point.. that some would make gambling out to be such a bad thing, while ignoring that much of our financial markets are effectively doing just that with our money, gambling. A story about public pensions taking risks with people’s savings IS my point Dan.

  28. Mike Benedict

    @Bob: I’m someone who knows enough not to have to sell real estate for a living.

  29. I dont know what that means exactly Mike, alot of people make alot of money in real estate.. I dont sell real estaste for a living either. I hope you spend your life doing exactly those things that make you happy. Really Mike, that is quite a telling reply on your behalf.

  30. Mike Benedict

    March 6, 2010 at 7:42 am
    I’ve been a real estate broker for 20 years Mike..

    March 9, 2010 at 8:37 am
    I dont sell real estaste for a living

    Q: How many Bob Fontaines can there be on one board?

  31. There is only 1 Bob Fontaine on the board that i’m aware of.. Both statements are true Mike.. you need to start thinking out of the box. I have been a broker for 20 years – but I dont sell real estate – I help others sell real estate better. Some of the best in the business. Does that help you understand a little bit better?

    I also think gaming should be legal in Massachusetts, but I also really dont care if it is. So I am not a pro-casino gambling interest that Dan seems to think I am.

    I live in Mass, but love Nevada. I love Stoli, but drink Bud Light. I like Giselle, but married the woman I love.

    I dont fit into your mold, because i’m more interested in fitting into my own. It’s pretty simple. A guy as smart as you made sure to proclaim here for all to envy be ought to be able to grasp most of it.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I dont sell real estate – I help others sell real estate better.

      I am reminded of the only people who made money in the California gold rush.

      By the way, @Bob, if you don’t want to be thought of as a tool of the gambling interests, you might want drop the word “gaming,” a public-relations term used exclusively by the industry and its sycophants.

  32. Dan, that’s not fair, and I expect better of you than cheap shots. Just because we differ on this issue is no reason to mock my position. I respect your right to either side of the position you take.. as a teacher I would expect the same tolerance from you.

    #1. I help brokers and owners sell real estate, which allows buyers to own real estate, like in having a home to live in. For you to somehow associate what I do with a chain-letter or ponzi scheme type behavior is misleading, offensive and outright wrong.

    #2. Not that I care, but if you consider someone like myself as a tool of the gaming industry what do you consider the corner store owner who sells rolls upon rolls of tickets to their “prey” along with cancer causing smokes, and accident causing liquor? Murderers?

    Responding to another member —- Dan Kennedy, talking abo0ut his weekly Mebabucks plays, says:
    October 20, 2009 at 5:32 pmLarz: “The problem is that once you have a number, you have to play it. To do otherwise is to mock the gods. Just $2 a week.”.

    So you’re out there enjoying and supporting the very behavior you would critcize me for simply arguing you should have the right to enjoy??

    OK Dan.

    “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”

    • Dan Kennedy

      For you to somehow associate what I do with a chain-letter or ponzi scheme type behavior is misleading, offensive and outright wrong.

      I agree, @Bob, and I did no such thing. Rather, I compared you to the folks who sold food, clothing and equipment to the hapless gold miners. That’s rather different, wouldn’t you say? If that is wrong, then I retract it. But I did not accuse you of doing anything unethical or immoral, any more than I think it was unethical for Levi Strauss to sell blue jeans to the miners. Wow, talk about touchy.

      As for consistency and hypocrisy, @Bob, the state lottery is legal and, in Massachusetts, casino gambling is illegal. There are reasons for that. I can enjoy an occasional glass of beer or wine without advocating that crack cocaine be legalized. Careful analysis requires not that we just look at the activity but also the degree and the effects on other people.

  33. Dan. what got me started on this post was your mention of the position of our elected reps, saying right on this page above “It’s an absolutely miserable situation.”

    Yet in the Oct 20 2009 posts I quote above,you said “Society has decided” through our elected representatives, who have approved some forms of gambling but not others”.

    So THEN it was about what our elected representatives had decided. But NOW that they have apparently changed their positions to ones that are different than your’s “it’s a miserable situation”?

    You dont see a conflict there?

    By the way, love your site(s), your posts, enjoy your causes, appreciate you sharing your more personal experiences with us as it gives a a better perpective of what Dan Kennedy is about. And I also root for you when I find you on TV.. for some strange reason.

    So please consider me a respectable disagreer. Imagine how boring it would be if we all thought and felt exactly the same way? The’d have to lock Giselle in a vault somewhere :).

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