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

Drive a stake through the corrupt heart of casino gambling

8161314100_89f6987d5a_oLongtime readers know that I don’t disclose who I’m voting for. Yes, I’m a liberal, and if you tried to guess I’m sure you’d be right most of the time. But I firmly believe that journalists — even opinion journalists — should keep their choices to themselves. It’s not a matter of objectivity; it’s a matter of independence.

But I feel no such compunction about ballot questions. After all, I analyze and express my opinion about issues. It seems silly to refuse to say how I’m going to vote on Question 3 after writing repeatedly that I’m staunchly opposed to casino gambling.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Here’s how I’m going to be voting on the four statewide ballot questions.

And yes, I will start with Question 3, which I think is by far the most important matter on the ballot. I have been fighting against casino gambling since 2007, when the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe tried to build a casino in Middleborough, the town where I grew up. The bid eventually fell apart amid a miasma of anger and corruption (what a surprise, eh?).

But Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislature, to their everlasting discredit, kept the issue alive with a 2011 law allowing for the opening of three casinos and one slots parlor. It is an outrage. A “yes” vote on Question 3, which you can be sure I’ll be casting tomorrow, would once again outlaw casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Casino gambling has been tied to an ocean full of social and economic ills — increased rates of crime, divorce, even suicide, and hollowed-own business districts as the spending shifts to the local casino. The stench of corruption is inevitable. Look at Everett, the locus of federal indictments even before one shovelful of dirt has been turned over.

I am disappointed that both major-party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley, say they would be open to finding a way to build a casino in Springfield even if Question 3 is approved. One aspect they may not understand is this: If casino gambling is legal, then tribal casinos become inevitable. You can’t let Springfield have a casino without opening the door to one, two or more tribal casinos as well. (And never mind the condescending attitude Baker and Coakley have about Springfield’s economic prospects.)

My fear is that Question 3 will lose decisively, thus creating the impression that Massachusetts residents are pro-casino. Polls consistently show that people are in favor of casinos in the abstract and against them when someone proposes to build one in their neighborhood. If Question 3 does go down, we can still fight them one at a time. But a “yes” vote would put the matter to rest once and for all.

Question 1. I’m voting “no.” A “yes” vote would repeal a law that indexes the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation. Our gas taxes are still on the low side, as anyone who drives through Connecticut can attest. Our transportation system needs a huge amount of investment whether you’re talking about rail, subways or highways and bridges.

Question 2. A “yes” vote would expand the bottle-deposit law, and I’m all for it.

Question 4. This is a perfect example of why some issues should not be decided by referendum. Passage of Question 4 would make medical leave mandatory at most private companies in Massachusetts. It’s an enormously complex issue. I’m voting “yes” because I’m concerned about the message that it would send if it goes down to defeat.

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  1. Aaron Read

    Rhode Island wants you to vote “yes” on Ques.3, too, since about 97% of our state revenue comes from taxing the poor…errr…casino “gaming” revenue. 🙂

  2. Bill Schweber

    I agree with you 100% on casino impact. But one thing I can’t figure is this: casinos are pitched as a huge source of jobs and revenue–but several have just closed in Atlantic City, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are struggling, Twin Rivers in RI is in deep trouble, and in general, the casino bubble is bursting (or has burst!). SO why are proponents taking that “if we build it, they will come” attitude and why are people buying into that? Especially given the weather and seasons here, these will not be “destiantion/vacation” casinos, that’s for sure.

    • Al Fiantaca

      @Bill: What proponents are saying is that regardless of what is happening to outstate casinos, we are spending more than a billion dollars of our money there and by having our own casiino(s), we will recapture most of, if not all, of that money, never mind how much of that money actually turns out to be returned to MA. The second issue is jobs. As you no doubt have seen if you live in the MA market, millions have been spent touting jobs, primarily for the construction industry, and a claimed several thousand permanent jobs in the completed casino(s). They even have former football star, Doug Flutie on the air promoting the jobs issue, although in his case, I think he is involved in an investment for an establishment within the casino environment, so his special interest there is important. As for me, personally, I’m against the casinos and will be voting yes on the question.

  3. Jim Paradis

    I think we should leave the moral arguments aside and focus simply on the economic merits (or lack thereof) of casinos. Policymakers look at places like Vegas and Foxwoods and think that casinos are a guaranteed money machine. What they don’t realize is that this only works if legalized gambling is so rare that its venues are major destinations. The more states try to get in on the gambling boondoggle the thinner the market becomes and the less economic boost they’re actually likely to see. The casinos will make money all right; the house *always* wins. The “trickle down” effects won’t be there, though.

  4. I was at Mohegan Sun yesterday (my wife was seeing the Frankie Valle show). I managed to break even at the tables by utilizing my time-honed strategy of not playing. The place was not nearly as active as I remember from 10 years ago. Slots were about 20% occupied. There was a section of blackjack/craps/roulette going, and a couple of sections of Chinese games (baccarat and Pai Gow), and that was about it.

  5. Carol Ackerman

    I’m with you all the way for all the same reasons

  6. John Emery

    We’re 4 for 4 in agreement, a pretty good day at the plate. I suspect this would be a consistent figure among the denizens of a certain back table at Frank’s Steak House.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @John: Yes indeed! One of the few groups I hang out with that seems to tilt to the left of me.

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