Rushin’ roulette

It’s hard to know what the right metaphor is to capture all the absurd gyrations and policymaking-on-the-run that have characterized the mad dash to casinos and slots.  Sometimes it seems a balloon is the right image, with every effort to squeeze some sense into this thing merely causing another area of the casino balloon to bulge toward the breaking point.  Or maybe it’s the sweater metaphor, where each tug at a knot in the knitting only unravels things a little more.

First was earmarking a cut of the house’s take to programs that try to stop compulsive gamblers from betting away the keys to the family car.  (With compulsive gamblers responsible for as much as third of all casino revenues, it would present a problem for all the revenue and jobs projections if these programs were wildly effective, but that’s probably not a worry.)  Then came the effort to protect existing concert venues, theaters, and other cultural institutions that are likely to take a hit when Donnie and Marie roll in for a week on a casino hall stage.  

Now on tap are questions surrounding what’s on tap. The casino bill would allow gambling halls to hand out free or reduced-price drinks. The Senate included language in its version of the bill that would level the playing field by having any such provisions apply to all licensed establishments statewide. In other words, gone would be the nearly three-decade-old state ban on “happy hours.” CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow, in his Boston Globe column last week, explained how the “happy hour” amendment was yet another effort to try to patch up a problem that casinos will cause — in this case the hit to the local restaurant and bar economy.

“Happy hours” have been banned in Massachusetts since 1984 — and, it turns out, with good reason. State House News Service reporter Andy Metzger recounts in graphic detail the bad old days of happy hours in the Bay State. With drunk driving fatalities piling up faster than empties in the Red Sox clubhouse, the story that finally did in happy hour involved a group of young people who got plastered on a September 1983 afternoon at a Braintree bar. One of them, a 20-year-old woman, ended up riding on top of a car through a parking lot. She fell under the car and was dragged 50 feet, sustaining fatal injuries, according to the SHNS story. The driver of the car had downed at least seven beers, according to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.  “I guarantee you that if happy hours are restored, dozens of people will be killed or maimed on our highways because of it,” former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who signed the ban in 1984, told Metzger.

Allowing the statewide happy hour ban to be lifted would defy any sound public policy rationale — such a proposal would never be under serious consideration on its own merits. Pulling the Senate amendment from the final bill, however, would put restaurants and bars at a further disadvantage. The amendment sponsor, Sen. Robert Hedlund, who claims he’s only interested in maintaining an even playing field for local businesses (including, presumably, the Braintree restaurant he is part owner of), said his first choice would be to ban free drinks from casinos, an idea that fell flat with his colleagues. That would seem to be the policy that makes the most sense.  But good sense is not necessarily what’s carrying the day in this debate. Taking free drinks off the table would mean casinos have to rely on patrons who are in their right mind, and that, apparently, is the last thing the gambling moguls and their State House sponsors want. 

                                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS


Speaking of casinos, Greg Bialecki, the state’s top economic development official, bought stock last year in two casino companies while he was pushing for expanded gambling here.  Bialecki sold the stocks last week following questions about the investments from the Globe.


The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found probable cause that Milton officials discriminated against an internal candidate for fire chief in 2009 by passing over him because of his age.

A proposal by Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan to borrow $6.8 million to expand a pilot recycling program turned political when several city councilors questioned why it’s coming two weeks before election and why it was designed to avoid being placed on a referendum.

After years of rising tension between Quincy and Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino has agreed to restrict police training hours on Boston-owned Moon Island, which can only be accessed through Quincy’s Squantum neighborhood.

A Lowell city councilor is raising questions about the hiring of city treasurer Greg Labrecque, whom the councilor alleges is a close friend and travel companion of the city’s chief financial officer, the Lowell Sun reports.

Peter Gelzinis, a Michael Flaherty fan, says the Southie pol’s quest for a city council seat is too transparently about grabbing Tom Menino’s job.


Mayors in Indianapolis and Minneapolis have come up with creative ways to do infrastructure work, Governing magazine reports.

Americans hate Congress more than ever before.

The Weekly Standard says with Mitt Romney as its candidate and his gift of gab, the GOP’s long national nightmare of verbal inadequacy would be at end.


Elizabeth Warren’s comments to The Daily Beast about creating much of the intellectual foundation for the Occupy movement stir a mini-controversy, NECN reports. To see the Beast report, click here or check out yesterday’s Download. But don’t look for Warren to be mingling in the tent city at Dewey Square, the Globe reports.

Atlanta Police clear a park of Occupy protesters and arrest about 50 people, WBUR reports (via AP).

The Wall Street Journal editorializes about the suddenly hot flat-tax sweepstakes.

Republican presidential hopefuls begin to hit the airwaves in New Hampshire.

Haley Barbour is worried that birtherism could not play well with swing voters come next November. And this is coming from a guy who flirted with a license plate honoring the founder of the KKK.


A new federal study on the initial impact of a controversial catch share system and repeated appeals for disaster aid by New England fishermen and officials have pushed embattled NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco to launch an assessment of the socio-economic impact of the restrictions.


The controversial Whole Foods Market in Jamaica Plain is scheduled to open next week, according to a company spokeswoman. Via Universal Hub

Higher fees and other business blunders have cause movie rental giant Netflix to lose nearly 1 million customers.

Two different reports show that Massachusetts home prices are up by modest amounts from the same time last year.

A stand-off between a medical software company and the Massachusetts Historic Commission has imperiled the firm’s planned expansion in Fall River — and the 800 jobs that were to come with it.


Boston’s dysfunctional student transportation system was declared in “crisis” by the president of the district’s school committee, Gregory Groover, with buses delivering students to schools as much as an hour after the start of the school day.

State officials express grave concerns about the Lawrence public schools and discuss the possibility of a takeover, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation asks: Are single-sex classrooms better for kids?

The White House rolls out a plan to consolidate and reduce student loans.


Two Massachusetts health care experts, Tim Murphy and John McDonough, explore whether Obamacare is the son of Romneycare in a CommonWealth Face to Face video conversation.


A MassINC report calls for regional taxes to fund the state’s transportation infrastructure and to reduce inequities in the current allocation of money, CommonWealth reports.

The MBTA will shut down the Red Line north of Harvard Square on weekends through March, to accommodate repairs to crumbling rail beds. The Somerville Journal details the latest developments in the Green Line Extension soap opera.


Several town officials in Shelburne who would normally be involved in the permitting process have backed away from a proposed $40 million wind farm in the western Massachusetts town because of potential conflicts of interest for them or relatives.

Westford unveils the state’s largest solar park.


The number of retractions of scientific research papers has risen dramatically in the last decade, according to Nature News, from about 30 in the early 2000s to an estimated 400 this year despite the number of papers published in that same time period rising only 44 percent. Via Not Running a Hospital.