Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Question 1 abuses the purpose of a ballot initiative

Ted Murphy/Flickr)
(Ted Murphy/Flickr)

The Wynn Boston Harbor resort broke ground this past August after months of legal battles with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. The $2.1 billion project in Everett is expected to finish in June of 2019 and will feature 3,000 slot machines, 150 gaming tables, eight restaurants and 600 rooms for guests, bringing in an estimated 18,000  cars a day when fully operational.

And before Boston and the state can measure the impact of this massive project, international-developer Eugene A. McCain is seeking a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to open a slots parlor at Suffolk Downs through the veil of a ballot initiative. Suffolk Downs is located less than four miles from the Wynn casino, so one could argue the move is simply good business competition. But underlying the measure lies the fact that a single developer is abusing the ballot process by asking voters to amend the current gaming licensing laws so he chip into the market.

The Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 allowed for three resort casinos and one slots parlor to open in the state. Currently, all of the available licenses have been awarded, but McCain is determined to proceed in his endeavor. Even after Revere voters voiced their opposition to his proposal, voting against it in a city-only referendum back on Oct. 18, he said, “We’re not accepting that the citizens of Revere are saying no.” The vanity is almost humiliating. Maybe voters just realize that buying property at a racetrack, then funding a voter referendum to authorize gambling at the site is not the function of a ballot initiative.

Let’s examine the language of the question. It states that the license can only be granted to “an establishment or proposed establishment that is attached to a horse-racing facility.” Seems very specific considering that aside from Suffolk Downs, there is only one other live horse-racing facility in the state and it’s at Plainridge Park, where a casino has already been built by Penn National Gaming. Though, under the law, ballot questions cannot only apply to one specific locality. So unless an additional horse-racing facility is built or proposed to be built somewhere in the state before early November, there is only one possible candidate for that description: Suffolk Downs. How Attorney General Maura Healy approved such language is baffling, but she claimed the question was broad enough that it could apply to multiple sites. Nevertheless, voters should be aware that this question barely squeaked onto the ballot.

The question also infringes upon the intended purpose of the ballot process: to give citizens an opportunity to initiate statewide change. Key word here: citizens. It’s not for one person to further their business interests. If this measure passes, citizens of the Commonwealth should be worried for our democracy, as a new precedent would be set because the same power citizens are entitled to in order to cause change within our state could be extended to corporations. Ultimately, though it may be an extreme comparison, this would have a similar impact as the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, insofar as the political process could be easily bent for the sake of business interests.

And while casino owners and developers like McCain argue that their business brings revenue to states, in recent years this has been dramatically overestimated. When the payroll tax holiday, which was established to help Americans recover from the financial recession, ended in late 2012, Americans saw their pay decrease by two percent. This, consequently, has resulted in a steady decline in casino revenue nationwide. And instead of following through on promises to states for an increase in tax dollars, casinos are missing their marks by nearly $600 million in some cases. Even Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville has failed to provide the state with $100 million in annual tax revenue, having only delivered about $82 million of that promise since opening over two years ago.

So should voters really listen when Eugene McCain claims him will be able to provide the state with an additional $80 million in new revenue with this new venture? No. It’s a lofty projection at best and a feeble form of persuasion, likely attempting to capture votes out of the anxiety from June, when state tax revenue was significantly lower than expected. So far Massachusetts’ casino experiment has been a disappointment. So why is there a rush to proceed deeper in the matter? I strongly urge voters to decline the proposal and to show McCain that we will not stand for individuals abusing our ballot process for personal gain.

Editor’s note: Eugene A. McCain initiated Question 1, not Penn National Gaming as previously stated.

Michael Agnello is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

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