Massachusetts casinos: no safe bet

By Nick Milano

Here we go again.

When Deval Patrick was elected in 2006, he was carried into office by a grassroots campaign – a political tactic similar to the one President Obama constructed in 2008.

It was about hope. His campaign slogan, “Together We Can,” rings awfully close to Obama’s “Yes We Can” counterpart.

Ignoring the fact that most politicians are some of this country’s most seasoned liars, many Massachusetts residents bought into Patrick’s pitch – and why wouldn’t they? Patrick seemed like the smartest candidate. His “outsider” status seemed to enable him to approach the state’s problems from a different point of view. On the campaign trail in 2006, he acted out his farce remarkably well.

As governor, his terrible decision to bring casinos into Massachusetts was both wrong for the state and an escape on the easy way out. It is not the kind of plan that should be coming from a transparent, popular and supposedly “outsider” politician.

This is relevant today because Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the Massachusetts House, is currently unveiling his own plan to expand gambling in the state. The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that DeLeo’s scheme is expected to contain plans for two casinos to be licensed, as well as granting racetracks the ability to to have slot machines. This is so important and disappointing because the last time Patrick brought legislation to the State House concerning casino gambling, it was shot down by the former House Speaker, Salvatore DiMasi. This time, the Speaker is proposing the legislation with the backing of the governor – providing Patrick with a good (and unfortunate) recipe for success.

To understand the role the Speaker plays in Massachusetts politics, just examine the incredible influence DiMasi had over shaping last decade’s political accomplishments. He was a crucial player in the creation of the Massachusetts health care reform legislation that has been highly successful in ensuring that nearly every Massachusetts resident has health insurance, and he did so years before the White House took it up.

DiMasi joined forces with Patrick to block a referendum on gay marriage from going to the voters, therefore ensuring that Massachusetts would remain strong in protecting its residents’ civil liberties. Then, he abandoned Patrick and convinced his fellow legislators in the House to defeat Patrick’s casino legislation.

Clearly, it is a big deal that Speaker DeLeo is the one who will be initiating legislation to bring gambling to Massachusetts. If DeLeo has any of the power DiMasi had when he swung the House to kill Patrick’s plan, then casinos will surely be coming to Massachusetts in the very near future.

DeLeo’s proposal inclusion concerning slot machines is a little more unlikely because both Senate President, Therese Murray, and Governor Patrick oppose them, according to the Boston Globe. DeLeo’s strong support for slot machines is not hard to rationalize, considering two of the four racetracks left in Massachusetts are located in his district.

DeLeo, Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray’s support for casinos seems more disappointing – particularly Patrick’s very open support for them. Casinos should not be brought to Massachusetts because they are not a true source of economic growth.

They may be a source of economic activity, but once they reach a plateau, there is no where else for them to go. Patrick’s original plan for three casinos and no slot machines at racetracks are estimated, according to the Boston Globe, to bring in 20,000 jobs and $2 billion dollars in economic activity. In an economic recession, that is almost too good to be true.

However, the lives destroyed by compulsive gambling and the type of jobs being created could be saved. Blackjack dealers, cocktail waitresses, hotel workers and janitors are the very type of service sector jobs that the American – and now Massachusetts’ –economy have become too reliant upon.

Why must the politicians in this state want it to become a place where people come to spend their disposable income – not a place where real, livable income is earned? The film industry tax break has been dramatically successful in bringing jobs to Massachusetts. Why spend the time and political capital pursuing other such endeavors.

Make Massachusetts the green jobs state. Continue making Massachusetts the biotechnology state – the one true Deval Patrick success. Make Massachusetts a technology center of the East. Don’t let companies like Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios – which he hopes to expand to 500 (surely high educated) workers – abandon Massachusetts because taxes are too stiff.

Governor Patrick won his election because he seemed different. His plan to expand gambling to the point where Massachusetts’ economy relies upon it is as equally frightening as it is disappointing.

Without his strong support, Speaker DeLeo would probably not be offering his own casino legislation today. There is nothing wrong with wanting to bring huge numbers of jobs to the state, but should we not expect more for this great state?

Governor Patrick, Senate President Murray and House Speaker DeLeo are choosing the easy way out. They believe expanding gambling establishments to create jobs will be a politically viable proposition. It is one way to ensure their reelection. It is not surprising, then, that casinos and slot machines are merely a half-measure. It is not a growth industry.

Call your legislator. Call the governor. Then, tell them that after four years of college, dealing Texas Hold ‘Em is not quite what you had in mind.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]