Breaking news: Middleborough casino still dead

Cape Cod Times reporter Stephanie Vosk writes that the former investors in plans to build a $1.6 billion casino in Middleborough may not be quite as former as the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe would have us think. And a lawsuit could be in the works.

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An Indian casino for Fall River?

The Cape Cod Times reports that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is negotiating with Fall River officials to build a casino in that city — a claim that tribal council chairman Cedric Cromwell more or less denies, saying he remains committed to building a casino in Middleborough.

A casino would be bad news anywhere in Massachusetts. But, all things considered, an economically depressed city such as Fall River makes more sense than Middleborough, whose rural character would be harmed significantly by such a venture.

Friday morning update: The Cape Cod Times, as promised, has more details today. And it looks like negotiations are off to a fine start. Fall River Mayor William Flanagan tells the Times, on the record, that he has met with tribal leaders to talk about a casino. Cromwell denies it.

Globe still ignores Middleborough’s “no” vote

The myth lives on in the Boston Globe. Christine Legere writes today that the town of Middleborough “enthusiastically agreed to host what was to be the state’s first gambling house” two years ago.

In fact, residents attending a chaotic outdoor town meeting that summer voted decisively against allowing a casino to be built in Middleborough. As the Globe’s Sean Murphy reported in CommonWealth Magazine, “the vote was overwhelming against a casino,” even though town meeting had approved a casino deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe earlier in the day.

I do love the quote Legere has from former selectman Adam Bond, the leader of the casino pack in 2007, in referring to the Wampanoags’ scaled-down plans:

It’s gone from a Tiffany operation with an arena, restaurants, and a large hotel to a gin mill with a buffet table. A small casino with a little food and some rooms says “Go gamble and have hookers.”

Bond goes on to suggest that a referendum be held to see if Middleborough voters support having a casino built in town. They don’t, and they didn’t two years ago, either.

Casino gambling and the Senate race

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Khazei seemed to come out of left field (they’re all coming out of left field, aren’t they?) when he announced his opposition to casino gambling at an event on Monday morning.

Indeed, one fellow candidate, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, said he had no plans to get involved in the issue because it’s not something in which the Senate will have a say.

In fact, though, Khazei’s position could prove to be important. Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that would, among other things, prevent the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe from taking property in Middleborough into a trust so that it could build a casino.

But it’s too soon for casino opponents to breathe a sigh of relief — the gambling interests are busily working to undo the court’s sensible decision.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, recently wrote a letter to Indian Country Today saying that the ruling “urgently needs to be corrected” with legislation that would, among other things, allow the Middleborough monstrosity to lurch back to life.

Massachusetts’ next senator could very well have to vote on such legislation. Not only is Khazei’s opposition to casinos relevant, but he and the other candidates should be asked how they would vote on the Dorgan bill.

A casino analyst’s conflict of interest

Nearly two years ago Phil Primack, writing in CommonWealth Magazine, exposed the flaws behind casino analyst Clyde Barrow’s rosy numbers. Primack explained that the UMass Dartmouth professor’s methodology consisted essentially of visiting the parking lots at Connecticut casinos and counting Massachusetts license plates. Very scientific.

Now the Boston Herald’s Jay Fitzgerald reports that Barrow is working as a paid consultant for a casino operator who wants to build in Hudson, N.H. “It’s really not much,” Barrow protests to Fitzgerald. Well, we all have to buy groceries.

At the same time, the long-dead Middleborough casino plan is showing signs of life, as federal legislation has been filed that could conceivably put the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s proposal back on track.

With Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all on board for expanded gambling, these are dangerous times for those trying to save Massachusetts from the social ills that casinos would bring.

Baker, Cahill and Mihos, too

Incredible as it may seem, there may not be a single candidate for governor in 2010 who’s opposed to expanded gambling. As we know, Gov. Deval Patrick is hopeless on the issue, as is State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who’s running as an independent.

A little Googling reveals that the leading Republican candidate, Charlie Baker, is also pro-gambling. Blue Mass. Group recently highlighted an interview Baker gave to the Boston Herald:

During his Herald interview, Baker also:

• Opposed Patrick’s plan to legalize three resort casinos in Massachusetts, saying the resorts would “cannibalize each other.” Baker said he is open to some sort of expanded gaming, however.

And businessman Christy Mihos, who’s challenging Baker for the Republican nomination, actually wants to legalize betting on college and professional sports.

Will no one stand up for common sense?

Just wondering

What is it that House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray like best about gambling casinos?

Is it the social dysfunction they help foster, including crime, suicide and bankruptcies? Or the fact that the promised revenues are an illusion, as the industry is in freefall thanks largely to oversaturation? (See recent reports by the New York Times and the Boston Globe.)

Casino opponents gave up a long time ago on Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick. It’s sad to see DeLeo joining them. Oh, where have you gone, Sal DiMasi?

The folly of casino gambling

There’s a terrific front-page story in today’s New York Times on the sagging fortunes of the casino-gambling industry. Ian Urbina reports that casinos may well be reaching the saturation point, as more and more are chasing the same number of customers.

In New Jersey, legislators have repealed no-smoking regulations in order to entice gamblers. In Illinois, there’s actually a proposal to keep gamblers liquored up with free drinks so they’ll keep blowing their money.

Urbina writes:

“When budgets get tight, expanding gambling always looks to lawmakers like the perfect quick-fix solution,” said John Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois who studies the impact of state-sponsored gambling. “But in the end, it so often proves to be neither quick nor a fix.”

Crime jumps 10 percent in areas with casinos, personal bankruptcies soar 18 percent to 42 percent and the number of new gambling addicts doubles, Mr. Kindt said. Predicted state revenue often falls short and plans frequently get tripped up by legal fights or popular opposition, he said.

With Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate president Therese “Ka-ching!” Murray expected to make a renewed push for expanded gambling this fall, the Times story is as timely as it is important.

Crime, bankruptcies, addiction — is this what our state leaders want?

Ted Kennedy and the Mormon temple (II)

Paging Kevin Bacon! There’s a heretofore unreported connection between the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and the Mormon temple in Belmont: communications consultant Scott Ferson, president and CEO of the Liberty Square Group.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Ferson was press secretary and Massachusetts issues director for Kennedy from 1990 to 1995. Later, as senior vice president of McDermott/O’Neill, he provided assistance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its efforts to build a massive temple in Belmont, a matter of some local controversy.

Ferson, in a comment he posted on Blue Mass. Group about an unrelated matter involving Republican gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos and Lieutenant Gov. Tim Murray, writes:

[T]he Mormon church was a client of mine, and … I joined Mitt Romney as he gave a tour of the Boston Temple in Belmont to my former boss, Ted Kennedy. Coincidence? Are there really any coincidences in this city?

It remains unclear precisely what Kennedy might have done to help local Mormons, who were finally allowed to build a spire with the Angel Moroni on top after winning a case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. But it is a fact that Kennedy was close to Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who claims Kennedy took credit for the Mormons’ success.

I should point out that Ferson is (was?) also involved in the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s efforts to build a gigantic gambling casino in Middleborough — efforts that, fortunately, have bogged down in scandal and controversy, through no fault of Ferson’s.

(Thanks to an alert Media Nation reader for passing this along.)

The DiMasi indictment

Three quick points on the indictment of former House speaker Sal DiMasi and three associates:

  • The Boston Globe deserves an enormous amount of credit for its dogged reporting on DiMasi, precisely the sort of public-interest journalism that’s endangered by the meltdown of the newspaper business. Given current trends, life will be easier for future DiMasis, and that’s a shame.
  • The prosecution’s case against DiMasi will never look stronger than it does today, and we should wait to see what develops. But the story that prosecutors tell is a sordid one. My personal favorite is the $25,000 DiMasi allegedly demanded and got following a bookkeeping error on the part of the co-defendants.
  • Never forget that DiMasi’s leadership saved the state, at least temporarily, from the evils of casino gambling. With the House now led by Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, who reportedly wants slot machines at dog tracks (although his support may be waning), and the Senate led by Sen. Therese “Ka-ching!” Murray, D-Plymouth, there are darker days ahead.