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What will casino foes achieve?

Byline: Clive McFarlane

I am not sure whether it is with resignation or reflection that we should face the fact that our politics have mostly mutated into hollow fights and Pyrrhic victories.

Take, for example, the ongoing fight over Massachusetts' 2011 gaming law, which permits three casinos and one slots-only casino in the state.

Opponents of the law appear to have won an early victory when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that their initiative to repeal the law can be placed on this year's ballot.

In addition to their contention that casinos tend to erode and destroy the social, economic and political fabric of a community, opponents claim that the Legislature, in passing the law, succumbed to "deep-pocketed lobbyists, special interests, political pressure.''


Well, if the latter were grounds for scrapping laws, we would no doubt be living in a lawless state, and perhaps that is where we are heading, because the formula that created the gambling law -- money, special interests and political pressure -- seems to be the same one opponents are using to overturn it.

But even if opponents succeed in getting their way, what will they actually achieve?

For starters, the state will have to find other sources to replace the $73 million in expected casino revenue it has already factored into its 2015 budget, and the $250 million a year it was expecting in ongoing revenues when all the casinos were online.

The potential funding gap facing the state wasn't lost on House Speaker Bob DeLeo, who authored the gambling law and who spoke about the Supreme Judicial Court's decision the day after it was made.

"Obviously, should voters decide otherwise in November, we would have to make some difficult decisions in terms of cuts that would probably have to be made at that time,'' he said.

"That's one of the issues I thought about when I woke up this morning.''

Mr. DeLeo might have been more at ease if he weren't operating in an economic climate in which demands for increasing tax cuts and business deregulation are being embraced by many on the right as the only solutions to stimulating economic growth.

Meanwhile, the benefits on the moral side of the ledger, if casino opponents win the day, are not really apparent.

All the signs and symptoms -- whether it is the hundreds of residents traveling to casinos in Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut each year, or the billions of dollars residents spend on lottery tickets each year -- suggest Massachusetts has a gambling itch that the prevention strategy by casino foes will not scratch.

According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, for example, Massachusetts in 2012 was second nationwide in lottery sales, $4.7 billion.

A Bloomberg analysis of U.S Census data in 2010 found that when judged by population size, Massachusetts was tops in the country with spending per adult on the lottery, averaging $860 per year.

Georgia ranked second, with an average of just over $470 per year.

Rather than deny private businesses the opportunity to run casinos in the state, the higher moral argument would be to demand that the state get out of the business.

Yet I do not see anyone mounting a ballot initiative to put the brakes on the state-controlled billion-dollar-a-year lottery industry.

In the end, without any practical alternatives to raising revenue, and without the ability to claim the moral high ground, the casino ballot measure amounts to no more than a statewide group trying to dictate the economic development strategies of local communities.

Contact Clive McFarlane at
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:McFarlane, Clive
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jun 27, 2014
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