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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?