Scrambling the golden egg

 

Massachusetts, which cautiously and methodically inched its way into casino gambling, is looking at moving into overdrive as lawmakers consider legalizing online gambling.

The state’s three approved casinos, of course, want more than a piece of the action, arguing they shelled out nearly $200 million for their licenses, not to mention billions for the construction of the brick-and-mortar gaming halls. They want a piece of the online action, too.

““We paid dearly,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president for public affairs for Penn National, which operates Plainridge Park Casino, told the Boston Globe. “And the limitation on the number of casinos was supposed to make us comfortable investing huge amounts of money. The state can’t now make a fundamental change in the deal we made.”

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is onboard with the effort, setting itself up as the overseer and boosting the idea that the casinos should be the ones to operate it and the state to benefit.

““We think there’s a real opportunity here for Massachusetts, not only to break new ground, but to create an economic driver that would pay real dividends for the Commonwealth,” commission chairman Stephen Crosby said recently.

The argument can be made that there’s a finite amount of gambling dollars available so siphoning them off from the as-yet-unrealized golden goose of casino gambling would not necessarily add more to the state’s bottom line, merely alter the source of the revenues.

But it doesn’t appear anyone knows what that cap is. Massachusetts is one of about a half-dozen states that have online gambling proposals before lawmakers. New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia are all considering measures to cash in on the internet. Why? It’s the revenues, stupid.

recent report from the gaming industry says online gambling in Pennsylvania could bring more than $400 million into state coffers over the next six years. While lawmakers view the numbers skeptically because of the source, they are, at least, viewing the numbers.

For those considering the financial benefits of internet gambling, they can look no further than New Jersey, which joined Nevada and Delaware in legalizing online gambling in 2013 as a way to bolster its sagging casino industry in Atlantic City. The Garden State only allows existing casinos to operate the sites. But the numbers aren’t quite as robust as hoped.

There’s also the ongoing concern about enabling addictive behavior by making access as easy as the click of a button but also letting people use credit cards to feed their habits. It’s one thing to drain the family bank account but quite another to mortgage the future.

States also need to be wary of changes in federal law regarding online gambling. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his confirmation hearing that he would review the 2011 law that booted up internet gambling and indicated he would consider reversing it. Given his boss’ background in the betting industry, though, that may be a nonstarter.

But the shift into cloud casinos in Massachusetts would not be limited to just poker and other virtual table games, with sports betting out of the question because of federal restrictions. The state Lottery is also asking for a share of the infinite internet.

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, on last week’s The Codcast, admitted she was a reluctant supporter of the move but now sees not only the benefits but the necessity to move into virtual betting for real revenues.

Goldberg offered one idea for keeping a lid on problem gambling. While she said she’d be open to allowing debit cards to be used, she is proposing gamblers purchase a card from a retailer and load up a finite amount for use online. This way, she says, you not only keep people spending within some limits, she also suggested the state can track how much individuals are betting and either shut them down when it’s out of control or give them some warning and help if things look like they’re getting away.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Sen. Thomas McGee is planning to run against Judith Flanagan Kennedy for mayor of Lynn. (The Item)

David Bernstein goes on a rather strange yet entertaining rant, calling for the elimination of the House of Representatives. (Boston)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter announced the city has reached a tentative agreement to purchase the desalination plant in Dighton from the private water company Aquaria for $78 million, a move he says will save Brockton $1.5 million a year. (The Enterprise)

Ross Douthat thinks liberal cities (yes, that includes Boston) are not good for the country and should be busted up. (New York Times)

After concertgoers trashed Veterans Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, the tab is in. Officials say it cost $370,000 to replace the turf field and will cost another $168,750 to fix the track. All of it will be covered by insurance except for a $100,000 deductible. (Eagle-Tribune)

Westport officials are considering hiring a professional assessor after the state twice in the past year has made recommendations for changes in the town’s office including creating the position for a professional. (Herald News)

Some Ashland residents are pushing for a beefed-up anti-noise bylaw restricting excess noise between 7p.m. to 7 a.m. because of complaints of increased activity in commercial areas. (MetroWest Daily News)

With the fourth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings approaching, victims still suffering  traumatic stress related to the attacks say they have been slighted by commemorative events that don’t include them. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The blame pie for the failure of the GOP health bill is being carved up and handed out in heaping helpings for many Republicans, with President Trump even offering a slice to Democrats. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who is close to Trump, called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down just hours after Trump urged his Twitter followers to watch her show. (New York Times)

Stephen Goldsmith and Alan Solomont urge officials to spare government service programs from the budget ax. (CommonWealth)

Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs writes that Trump’s policy on taxes and government funding of research would derail the country’s position as the world leader in innovation and cede that position to China. (Boston Globe)

Here is a super detailed, inside-the-workings-of-Congress account of how Trump and the Republican health care bill wound up in a ditch on Friday. (Vox)

North Carolina’s bathroom bill has cost the state $3.6 billion in lost business.

ELECTIONS

Pundits handicap the open race for the District 2 Boston city council seat with a focus on the two “heavyweights” — South Boston’s Ed Flynn and Bay Village resident Michael Kelley. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority has decided to close its online store after the retail site generated just $32,000 in sales of authority-branded items such as hats, belts, and ties since opening five years ago and barely breaking even. (Cape Cod Times)

Marijuana legalization could be a boon to a host of businesses in the state — from security companies to contractors to build and outfit greenhouses. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy is considering a merger with another Christian school in Tennessee after hiring the southern college’s president for its own vacant top post. (Patriot Ledger)

The Boston Public Schools will launch a hackathon on Saturday in an effort to better plan the timing and routing of school bus service for 30,000 students — though bus drivers say they were not invited to the brainstorm session. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Department of Public Health statistics show more children in Cape and Islands counties start school without the full range of vaccines because of religious and medical exemptions than any region of the state, with Dukes County on Martha’s Vineyard granting exemptions to 8.2 percent of students compared to 1.3 percent statewide. (Cape Cod Times)

Teen births continue to drop in the state — to one-third the levels from 1990 because of widespread availability of birth control and increased sex education. (MetroWest Daily News)

TRANSPORTATION

A private bus company will use MBTA buses to operate the agency’s routes in Winthrop, a potential model for future bus service expansion. (Boston Herald)

The Globe reports that critics say the MBTA is overstating its budget deficit problems, an issue CommonWealth detailed last week.  

Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics suffer a disproportionate amount of pedestrian deaths. (Governing)

United Airlines bars two women from boarding a plane because they were wearing leggings. The airline says the women were traveling on employee passes and violated company rules on clothing that would not apply to regular passengers. (Washington Post)

Uber has suspended tests of its self-driving cars after one of the vehicles was involved in a crash in Arizona that caused the car to flip on its side. (New York Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Preparing for a shrinking Boston, officials should focus on resilience and not resistance, says Julie Wormser of Boston Harbor Now. (CommonWealth)

The Clean River Project used to pull tires, shopping carts, and other castoffs out of the Merrimack River between Lowell and Haverhill, but officials have seen a huge increase in the number of syringes. (Eagle-Tribune)

WBUR profiles Ambri, a company that believes it has figured out a way to store electricity.

Sandwich Town Meeting voters will consider a “right to farm” bylaw. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Testifying today for the prosecution: Jonathan “D.J.” Hernandez, brother of accused double murdered Aaron Hernandez. (Boston Herald)

Stanley Pollack, leader of the Boston-based nonprofit Teen Empowerment, says communication and respect are keys to building trust in police-community relations. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Erik Wemple analyzes White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s recent attacks on the media, including his claim that a Politico reporter is “an idiot with no real sources.” (Washington Post)