Neighbors reject Taunton casino plan by 2-1 margin

As you may have heard, Taunton voters overwhelmingly approved a tribal casino in a nonbinding referendum on Saturday. But that’s not even close to the whole story.

Residents who live closest to the proposed casino voted even more overwhelmingly against it. According to Cape Cod Times reporter George Brennan, the city voted  7,693 in favor and 4,571 opposed — but “in the two East Taunton precincts where the Mashpee Wampanoag casino is planned, voters rejected it by nearly a 2-1 margin.”

In the Taunton Gazette, reporter Christopher Nichols posts the numbers:

Ward 4 — which contains most of East Taunton — voted against the casino proposal with 755 in favor and 1,332 opposed. Voters closest to the proposed casino site in Ward 4 Precinct B voted against the proposal, 678-350.

Yet, with regard to Boston’s two daily newspapers, we’re already seeing a repeat of 2007. That’s when the big news was that Middleborough had voted in favor of a deal the selectmen had cut with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to build a casino in that town (big news!), and then turned around and took a decisive but nonbinding vote against the casino itself (shhhh … pay no attention).

The proposed Middleborough casino eventually fell apart, but town officials are still hoping there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Alice Elwell of the Brockton Enterprise has the latest.

So what happened with the Taunton vote? On Sunday, the Globe’s Mark Arsenault reported on Taunton’s vote in favor of the casino — but made no mention of the results in East Taunton. The Herald did better, publishing Brennan’s Cape Cod Times story (Herald publisher Pat Purcell runs several of Rupert Murdoch’s regional papers, including the Times). But today, the Herald offers a follow-up by Chris Cassidy and Laurel Sweet that omits the vote of the opposition in East Taunton.

Arsenault, in his Globe story, closes by noting that Taunton is a long way from actually hosting a tribal casino. Because of a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carcieri v. Salazar, the Mashpee won’t be able to build a tribal casino in Taunton without an act of Congress. Good luck with that.

The Taunton vote demonstrates, once again, that no one wants to live next to a casino. Nor should they have to.

A final casino note: Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn turned out on Saturday to lend his support to East Boston residents opposed to a casino that’s been proposed for Suffolk Downs.

Given that the East Boston plan is already being portrayed as a done deal, it will be pretty interesting to see how a battle between Boston’s former and current mayors (Tom Menino supports the proposal) will play out.

Photo (cc) by s_falkow and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

At casinos, compulsive gambling is the whole idea

The appalling decision by state leadership to build three casinos and a slot parlor in Massachusetts is a disaster-in-the-making on many levels. Studies have shown that proximity to casinos correlates with increases in crime, divorce, even the suicide rate.

And here’s another. Though compulsive gamblers may make up a small proportion of the population (between 1 percent and 5 percent, depending on which study you look at), casinos are utterly dependent on those folks coming in and blowing the grocery money. Michael Jonas of CommonWealth Magazine writes:

Just how much of the revenue casinos bring in is from the losses of those with gambling problems? One of the most thorough studies of this issue was done in 2004 in Ontario, where researchers had a sample of residents maintain diaries logging their gambling expenditures. The study, prepared for the government-supported Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, estimated that 35 percent of Ontario casino revenues were derived from moderate to severe problem gamblers. Such gamblers accounted for 30 percent of revenue from casino table games and a whopping 62 percent of revenue from slot machines.

Jonas also quotes Gov. Deval Patrick as saying, once again, that the legislation now hurtling through the Legislature will include money for treating compulsive gamblers. But there’s no logic to Patrick’s position. Within the casino industry, compulsive gambling is not a bug — it’s a feature, vital to its business model.

What’s taking place on Beacon Hill right now will live in infamy. Patrick’s legacy as governor will be his leading role in foisting this miserable enterprise upon the public.

Also: Harvey Silverglate writes in the Boston Phoenix about his angst over being a libertarian who opposes casinos and slots. As he notes, there’s nothing libertarian about what will take place in Massachusetts: this will be a government-run operation from the start.

If you really want to gamble, maybe we can start taking bets on which ex-legislator will be hired as the $150,000-a-year executive director of the Massachusetts Gambling — uh, Gaming Commission.

Three for Thursday

There’s so much going on this morning that I can barely keep up. And I really need to return to (shhh!) the Book. So here’s a quick roundup, to be followed by a more important matter, and then (I tell myself sternly) that’s it for today.

  • Don’t miss Michael Levenson’s splendid Boston Globe article on the millions of dollars being spent on Beacon Hill by developers looking to build casinos in Massachusetts. Levinson wins extra bonus points for referring to “gambling interests” rather than the PR-ish “gaming interests” so beloved by those trying to improve the image of their miserable industry. As Dick Hirsch says of “gaming”: “They are trying to wrap a noxious substance in an elegant package in order to conceal its toxicity, deodorize it and tell us what a benefit it will be.”
  • Very sad news about Steve Jobs’ decision to step down as Apple’s chief executive. Forgive me if I’ve said this before: he may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard, always keeping his focus on what users want – and even on what they don’t know they want. He is a visionary and quite possibly a genius. The must-read is this essay by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. Don’t skip the video. Though it is universally believed that Jobs is gravely ill, I hope he can contribute to Apple in a reduced capacity for a long time to come.
  • Best wishes to Jim Romenesko, the indefatigable media blogger who announced his semi-retirement yesterday. Starting in the 1990s, Romenekso – first at his own site, later for the Poynter Institute – has been linking to (and offering short, intelligent commentary on) every bit of media news and gossip he can find. Especially in the early days of the Internet, he gave alt-weekly types like me a small national readership. Here’s a piece I wrote about him for the Boston Phoenix in 1999, when he announced the move to Poynter. And here’s a Phoenix article written by Mark Jurkowitz in 2005 on the dread “Romenesko effect.” Good luck to Jim, the best friend obscure media columnists like me ever had.

Yes, casinos hurt local businesses

The Boston Globe’s Jenifer McKim today reports that Robert Goodman, an expert on casino gambling, believes a proposed casino and slot-machine emporium at Suffolk Downs would harm local businesses.

“No serious economic impact analysis has been done in Massachusetts,” Goodman tells McKim. “More money is going to be sucked out of the local economy.”

But aren’t casinos supposed to be good for the economy?

In fact, the negative effect described by Goodman is so well-known that Glenn Marshall, the disgraced former chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, reportedly promised business owners in Middleborough that he would give them money to offset the harm that would be done by the casino the tribe had proposed for that town. (The tribe recently dropped the long-dormant Middleborough scheme in favor of a site in Fall River.)

According to a story by Alice Elwell in the Enterprise of Brockton in September 2007, Marshall had promised local business leaders that he would “help” if the casino harmed restaurants in town. Selectman Wayne Perkins was quoted as saying this would have taken the form of “comp points” — scrip given to casino visitors that could be used at Middleborough businesses, which in turn could trade them in for cash. (The original link seems to be broken, but I wrote about it at the time.)

A casino is a self-contained economic machine that sucks money out of customers who might otherwise spread it around at local businesses, a fact Marshall backhandedly acknowledged in promising “comp points.” It then funnels the cash to high-rolling investors — and, of course, to the state, which is why Beacon Hill is now on the verge of approving this monstrosity.

The Globe’s corporate cousin, the New York Times, editorialized on Monday:

Casinos are a magnet for tainted money and promote addiction, crime and other ills….

The state’s politicians should also stop chasing gamblers. At a time when casino revenue is slumping across the country, it doesn’t even make economic sense. They need to make hard decisions on taxes and spending, and focus on developing stable industries, improving education and working their way to growth. If they keep holding out for a false jackpot, everyone will lose.

The Globe editorial page, by contrast, has been consistently if cautiously pro-casino. Too bad. As the region’s dominant media player, the Globe could exercise some real leadership on this issue.

Photo (cc) by Jamie Adams via Wikimedia Commons.

Middleborough casino fiasco is finally, officially over

I’m not sure when I first wrote that the “resort casino” the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe wanted to build in Middleborough would never come to pass. But here’s something I wrote on Aug. 28, 2007, shortly after Middleborough residents approved a deal with the tribe (widely reported) and also voted to advise officials that they did not want a casino built in town (barely reported):

Obviously the Middleborough casino will never be built. The big-money players will move on once they realize that this will be tied up in the courts for years. Dissident tribal members are already suing in federal court. Middleborough casino opponents vow to keep fighting.

Today Cape Cod Times reporter George Brennan writes that the tribe has finally, officially dropped its Middleborough proposal and is instead focusing on Fall River. An announcement is scheduled for this afternoon. Brennan, in turn, cites a report by Michael Holtzman in the Fall River Herald News that the city received a comitment letter from the tribe last Friday.

Middleborough’s gain is Fall River’s loss, and I hope folks in that economically distressed city can see through the spin and knock this down. (Holtzman notes that the casino proposal has a long way to go.) But I am nevertheless glad to see that the town where I grew up is no longer in any danger — not even theoretically — of hosting what was, at one time, intended as the world’s biggest casino.

“I’m very disappointed, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Middleborough town manager Charles Cristello tells Alice Elwell of Brockton’s Enterprise.

Mr. Cristello, your town just got saved.

Getting more than he’s betting on

Writing in the Boston Globe, Paul McMorrow raises an important point about Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s quest to build two casinos and install slot machines at four racetracks.

Right now, the Mashpee Wampanoag bid to build a casino in Middleborough is being stymied mainly because casino gambling is illegal in Massachusetts. Once it’s legalized, the door is open not just for the Middleborough location, but for other tribal casinos as well. McMorrow writes:

In DeLeo’s rush to appease the building trades and carve out some action for the two racetracks in his district, the speaker of the House is setting the table for a gambling expansion in Massachusetts that has the potential to be far broader than anything he’s pitching. He’s opening the door to new gambling halls on Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape, in Middleborough and Fall River. It’s also something neither he, nor anyone else on Beacon Hill, can control.

And though McMorrow doesn’t say it, you can be sure that officials in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut won’t stand pat if casinos are built in Massachusetts.

It is sad that none of the major candidates for governor — not Gov. Deval Patrick, Republican Charlie Baker nor independent Tim Cahill — opposes this financial and social boondoggle-in-the-making.

Profile in cowardice

CommonWealth Magazine’s Michael Jonas considers the sad case of state Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who candidly admits she reversed her longstanding opposition to casino gambling in order to please House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

How casino gambling nearly destroyed a family

Gail Spector, editor of the Newton Tab, has written a must-read column on how casino gambling nearly destroyed her family because of her late father’s gambling addiction. Always a problem, his addiction raged out of control once the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Resort and Casino, in upstate New York, opened near the town where they lived.

Spector’s personal story is well-told and deeply moving, and I don’t want to spoil it by trying to excerpt it here. I will instead go with her conclusion:

Preying upon and purposefully aggravating the torment and destruction that gambling addictions cause families is cruel. Further justifying it as a means to create local aid for communities is devious and shameful.

Unfortunately, it appears that is precisely what the Massachusetts House is on the verge of doing — to be followed, you can be sure, by the Senate and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie is taken for a ride with some happy gamblers who took a bus from South Station to Foxwoods. Among the people whom MacQuarrie meets is Curtis Harris of Cambridge, “a self-described poker professional.”

Harris, 34, tells MacQuarrie he has a system that brings in $100 a day, and that he supports his two children with his gambling. “This outing went well,” MacQuarrie writes. “Harris, who played nonstop from 2 p.m. Friday until noon Sunday, left with $710.”

Call me a cynic, but I’m guessing there are some aspects to Harris’ story that he withheld from MacQuarrie. The reason they say the house always wins is because the house always wins. And I don’t think making it easier for Harris gamble on his children’s future is going to make things any better for his family — to say the least.

Just vote “no” on expanded gambling

I just sent the following e-mail to my state representative, Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers:

Dear Ted —

I’m writing today to urge you to vote “no” on Speaker DeLeo’s bill to expand legalized gambling in Massachusetts. The negative effects of casinos and slot machines would be far greater than could be justified by any increased revenue the state would receive — revenue that, in all likelihood, would not be nearly as great as proponents predict.

Not only would casinos in Massachusetts be a bad idea in and of themselves, but they would almost certainly lead to expanded gambling in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

I first became aware of the hazards of casino gambling when a few wealthy investors used the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to put forth a plan in Middleborough, the town where I grew up, to build what at one time was described as the world’s largest casino. As you probably know, that effort was fraught with corruption. Glenn Marshall, the tribal leader, ended up going to prison.

Studies have shown that casinos lead to increased crime and a higher divorce rate, and have even been linked to an increase in suicides. I urge you to get the facts from United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, which is online at www.uss-mass.org.

Sincerely,

Dan Kennedy
Danvers

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.