Rolling the Dice

Rolling the Dice

Coverage of casino licensing and the gambling referendum

The casino gamble

If you’re a state leader or a casino mogul lustily eyeing the gambling licenses up for grabs in Massachusetts, did you smile giddily or break into a cold sweat when reading yesterday’s New York Times Magazine cover story on the rough times at Foxwoods, the Connecticut mega-casino whose lunch we are supposed to be preparing to eat?

Probably a little bit of both. Foxwoods’s troubles have come in part from increased competition — from things like the new slots at Aqueduct racetrack in New York and the huge expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania. Massachusetts is now poised to join in the feeding frenzy that is “cannibalizing” Foxwoods customers. That prospect can bring smiles here. The sweat beads come from the realization that the current woes at Foxwoods are likely to be the future problems of Massachusetts casinos, as New Hampshire, New York, and other states look to get in on more of the gambling action.

The story, which details the $2.3 billion in debt that Foxwoods has amassed, offers some other sobering observations. Today’s casino market is mostly a middle-aged crowd, and the growth of online poker means lots of young people “may never become casino habitues,” writes Michael Sokolove. “So at the same time that brick-and-mortar casinos are proliferating, the demographics may be working against the industry.”

Sokolove says such trends smack “of the despair you hear in the newspaper business over the advanced age of the core customers and the fear that younger people do not like the product enough to replace them.”

Today’s Globe reports that Steve Crosby, chairman of the new Massachusetts Gaming Commission, is warning that the casino legislation he is working under has several unrealistic deadlines that would force his panel to rush their work. A tight timetable for  pushing ahead the state’s entry into the casino business, however, may turn out to be the least of the challenges.

                                                                                                                                        –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray shows up at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast dressed in race car driver clothes, and JKIII pokes fun at himself with a top ten list, NECN reports. US Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren play big roles at the breakfast, WBUR reports.

The Berkshire Eagle argues that lawmakers should revisit the flawed three-strikes bill.

There are now four Democrats vying for the seat of retiring state Rep. Geraldine Creedon.

Eight states get Fs on transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption mechanisms, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Massachusetts received a C.

OCCUPY

Boston Phoenix reporter Chris Faraone sits down on Keller@Large to talk about his new book about the time he spent embedded with the Occupy Boston movement.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The bidding process for the new Quincy Middle School was halted after a suit was filed by group representing nonunion construction workers challenging the city’s “responsible employer” mandate which requires, among other things, that one-third of the project’s workers be Quincy residents.

Wellesley examines the problem of hidden homelessness.
 
NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

US Reps. John Olver and James McGovern were arrested along with actor George Clooney outside of the Sudanese embassy, NECN reports.

Economist Alan Blinder talks budget deficits and other apocalyptic matters.

ELECTION 2012

William Kristol revives an exchange from a 2008 debate in New Hampshire in which Mitt Romney says he was for mandates before being against them now. And for good measure the Weekly Standard runs the piece with a picture of Romney and the late Ted Kennedy.

John McCain speaks: The 2008 GOP presidential nominee says that the party needs to back off the contraception issue and get back to talking about jobs and the economy. Rick Santorum talks about the economy, but only to point out what a city-loving liberal rich guy Mitt Romney is. The New York Times previews the Illinois primary, where a rightward-drifting electorate is adding to Romney’s heartburn.

Mitt Romney advises President Obama to fire three of his cabinet members, a group Romney dubbed the “gas hike trio.” The Globe reports that Romney’s pledge of hefty defense budget spending will be hard to meet.

GOP leaders say Democratic US Rep. John Tierney is beatable.

CHARITY

The Chronicle of Philanthropy offers a conflicting portrait of nonprofit foundations with several stories from their annual survey showing 71 percent of major foundations expect their grant giving to be flat or decrease because of the stubborn recession. At the same time, though, the Chronicle says most foundations gave out raises in 2011, with the median salary rising 14.2 percent ion the last five years.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Tennessee legislature passes a resolution pleading with quarterback Peyton Manning to sign with the Tennessee Titans, Governing reports.

Wall Street lines up for Fannie Mae-owned foreclosures.

EDUCATION

The National Review posits that reducing federal subsidies of private colleges and universities can actually bring the cost of education down at what they label the “college cartel.”

HEALTH CARE

The Northeastern University Initiative for Investigative Reporting documents how the state’s medical board simply disappears records of doctors with embarrassing histories.

New “urgent care centers” may provide a solution to soaring health care costs and heavy use of hospital emergency rooms, the Globe reports.

New York magazine profiles the lawyer behind the Supreme Court challenges to nationalized health care.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gas drilling did not contaminate the ground water in a Pennsylvania town at the center of a debate about the safety of fracking, Governing reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A nine-year-old third grader in West Yarmouth manages to get out of jury duty.

MEDIA

A new Pew report assesses the state of the news media in 2012. Newspapers were the only platform that failed to show any audience growth.

Time explores “the richer sex,” explaining why women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners and why that’s good for everyone.

With casinos, all politics is political

If, as Barney Frank says, “Government is the name we give to things we choose to do together,” politics must be the name we give to things that advance our own agenda and self-interest while putting a flamethrower to competition that might injure our priorities.

Less than a month since Gov. Deval Patrick signed the casino bill into law, the focus has been on the warts of the growing number of proposals and why they won’t or shouldn’t get built as opposed to where they will eventually go. And, quel suprise, it’s all about politics.

The Globe’s Brian McGrory writes that Mayor Thomas Menino may not be as enamored with a casino at Suffolk Downs as he publicly states. It seems Vornado Realty Trust, that New York-based investment company that dug a hole where Filene’s used to be, has been buying up shares of Suffolk Downs in anticipation of getting a casino license and now holds a 20 percent stake in the venture. Which means they’ll rake in some big bucks if Menino can successfully torpedo the competing proposal from the Robert Kraft-Steve Wynn tag team.

But, McGrory points out, politics is about grudges and no one holds them better than Hizzoner. Menino has grumbled about Vornado’s lack of cooperation in Downtown Crossing and his development team has sent word to the company, in McGrory’s words, ”No building at Filene’s, no casino.”

But to cover all the bases, Suffolk Downs is not putting all their eggs in Menino’s basket lest they get scrambled. Members of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce meet with Chip Tuttle, the COO of Suffolk Downs, on the track’s gambling proposal, the Lynn Item reports.

While Menino has been focusing on the Foxboro proposal as the main competition for a Boston casino (“It’s not Bob Kraft making the decision,” Menino said earlier this month. “It’s a five-member panel commission making the decision.”), Sheldon Adelson is the latest casino
magnate to eye Massachusetts. Sources tell the Herald that Adelson, a Dorchester native, is kicking the tires on land in South Boston and Marlborough, both of which are in the same region as Foxboro and Suffolk Downs under the legislation. Expect all-out assaults on Adelson’s proposal to commence after the holidays.

Meanwhile, Wynn is testing casino campaign talking points by calling Foxborough residents during dinner, and in the middle of the Pats game; town officials asked him to stop not only because it’s ticking people off as the Pats make a playoff run but he also may be inviting town officials to violate state law. Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos curtly declined to join a conference call with executives from Wynn Resports and the Kraft Group, noting that the call would likely violate the state’s Open Meeting Law. Wynn had also invited the town’s five selectmen to join the call. And now casino opponents are jumping on the email invitation to question whether clandestine politics are driving the deal.

Down the road a piece in Raynham, Selectman Chairman Joseph Pacheco says a slot proposal for the dog track likely would be derailed if a casino is approved in nearby Bridgewater or Middleboro. And he says any discussion of the casino in either of those towns should include officials from other towns, including Raynham.

And for anyone who doubts politics – okay, money, then politics – is the driving force behind all things gaming, take a read on the state’s response to a suit filed by a developer seeking to site a casino in New Bedford. The suit by KG Urban Enterprises charges the law’s tribal set-aside is unconstitutional because it is race-based. Not so, says the state. “This distinction is political.” Word.

                                                                                                                                        –JACK SULLIIVAN

BEACON HILL

The Massachusetts Lottery is considering allowing players to use debit cards for purchases.

Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas slams Auditor Suzanne Bump. He quotes Robert Powilatis, a deputy auditor under Bump predecessor Joe DeNucci, as saying she is incompetent. “Everything now in the office is political. Her top deputies are fundraisers. The only meaningful reports coming out of the office are audits that were in the DeNucci pipeline,” Powilatis says.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is on a roll, collecting $24 million from Merck, the largest payment for a single case of Medicaid fraud in state history, WBUR reports.

A state homelessness prevention program misses out on federal funding.

The Cape Cod Times considers the squeeze on municipal funding.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lawrence group trying to recall Mayor William Lantigua is beset by infighting over a deal with the city on a Spanish translation of the recall petition. The group’s president says he wants to verify the city’s Spanish version is translated accurately. “You can’t trust these people,” he tells the Eagle-Tribune.

Lowell reaches an agreement with its 17 municipal unions to join the state’s Group Insurance Commission. The city manager estimates savings of $9.6 million in the first year, half of which will go back to employees, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Patriot Ledger has filed a complaint with the Attorney General charging two Weymouth committees violated the state’s Open Meeting Law in ithe search for a new school superintendent.

Boston barely, if ever, enforces regulations governing valet parking operators, who tie up traffic and neighborhood parking spaces with impunity, the Globe reports.  

Kevin Kennedy, a former aide of US Rep. Richard Neal,  is Springfield’s new chief development officer.  

The matter of the soon-to-be new Boston city clerk, Maureen Feeney, and the city council president, Steve Murphy, who has pushed for her appointment is a classic case of mutual back scratching, writes the Globe’s Andrew Ryan. He also reports that state Rep. Marty Walz wants to clamp down on city clerks pocketing thousands of dollars for performing weddings in municipal buildings.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The House rejects a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut enjoyed by 160 million workers, the Washington Post reports. The move earns the GOP an unusual rebuke from the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page: Republican leadership’s handling of the payroll tax cut makes the paper “wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.”

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano proposes giving voting rights to illegal immigrants and other non-citizens, the AP reports.

Elizabeth Warren makes the US News & World Report’s list of the 10 Most Influential Political Newcomers, a list that includes Hillary Clinton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and presidential candidate and veteran US Rep. Ron Paul. We repeat, political newcomers.

ELECTION 2012

Next man up in the Anybody But Mitt Sweepstakes. The last contender in that sweepstakes asks Mitt Romney to take it easy on him with the brutal Super PAC ads. The New York Times profiles Newt Gingrich’s Capitol Hill years.

FactCheck.org pretty much destroys Gingrich’s recent attempt to make some sort of point by declaring that starting pay is higher for school janitors in New York than teachers.

Romney really, really doesn’t want to get embarrassed in New Hampshire. And speaking of embarrassing moments

How a third party candidate could get traction.

Jon Keller says a USA Today/Gallup poll showing 70 percent of voters are already sick of the campaigning is more a reflection of the content than the process.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Governing investigates the disappearance of pedestrian malls.

Good housing news, bad housing news: Massachusetts home sales rose by 13 percent in November, but it was still the third-worst November in two decades, and home sales for the year remain the weakest they’ve been since 1991. Actually, that was mostly bad news. Sorry.

EDUCATION

The MetroWestDaily News argues that students who get into trouble in school should not be kicked out.

City Journal’s Sol Stern argues that nearly a decade of school reform under New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not yielded much in the way of student achievement gains.

Porn star Aurora Snow takes to the Daily Beast to condemn attacks on Kevin Hogan, the English teacher at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School who formerly worked in adult films.

HEALTH CARE

Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has plans for still another huge new research building.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A flu virus is to blame for the recent spate of seal deaths.

MEDIA

With the New York Times putting some of its properties on the block, Dan Kennedy, in his latest Huffington Post piece, wonders if the Globe is next and thinks local ownership may be the best move.

Egyptians protest beating of women after a horrific video sweeps across the Internet. The video is not for the faint of heart.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Bill Conlin, a sports columnist for a crosstown rival, is being accused of molesting four children in the 1970s.
 
WBUR examines New York Times columnist Gail Collins’s obsession with the 1983 story about Mitt Romney putting his dog in a crate and strapping it to the top of his car for a trip to Canada.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A jury convicted a Sudbury man of conspiring with al Qaeda to unleash terrorist attacks.

A Level 3 sex offender charged with attempting to rape a woman at knife point in New Bedford was held without bail after prosecutors argued he has been arrested more than 80 times since 1979 on a variety of charges..

The Download: Cracking down on gambling

As everyone knows, slot machines and casino gambling haven’t been approved by the Massachusetts Legislature. But what most people don’t know is that devices that closely resemble slot machines have been popping up in small shops across the state for the past few years, sidestepping the legal ban by masquerading as sweepstakes.

Some of the shops are cyber cafes, where patrons buy Internet access and then get to play what are essentially video slot machines with real payouts. Other shops sell phone cards in conjunction with the chance to win cash prizes by playing video slots or poker.

CommonWealth offered a good overview of the situation last August. In the new spring issue, which will be out next week, the magazine details how the state Lottery, which offers officially sanctioned gambling, was so concerned about the machines it told its agents that their licenses would be terminated if they tried to sell scratch tickets and numbers while also operating the slot-like devices.

Local police and politicians have been complaining to Attorney General Martha Coakley for more than a year, and she responded yesterday with regulations covering “illegal lotteries, sweepstakes, and de facto gambling establishments.”

The regulations walk a fine legal line. They essentially say it is legal to sell a good or service in connection with the chance to win a prize, but it becomes illegal “where a gambling purpose predominates over the bona fide sale of bona fide goods and services.”

Coakley’s regulations include criteria for determining whether the gambling purpose predominates, things like whether the good or service is actually used by customers, the manner in which the business is advertised, and whether a customer can play for free and still win a prize. The goal, apparently, is to distinguish between the storefront slot machine operators and the sweepstakes run by Jordan’s Furniture, McDonald’s, and cereal makers.

Perhaps because her regulations are a bit fuzzy and possibly vulnerable to court challenge, Coakley says she also plans to pursue legislation. One bill, filed by Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (no relation to the AG) of Springfield, is already pending.

Coverage of Coakley’s regulations was very parochial. The Herald News focuses on two cyber cafes owned by Fall River City Councilor Leo Pelletier. The Springfield Republican focuses on a Chicopee establishment. The Worcester Telegram’s story deals with two cyber cafés in town. The Boston Herald quoted the attorney general’s office as saying the phone card video gambling terminals are being operated by about 170 Lottery agents, although that number seems high and conflicts with statistics cited in a court suit against the Lottery by a company selling the phone card “slot” machines.

                                                                                                                                                                            –BRUCE MOHL

BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick bristled at comments from some members of the Governor’s Council who suggested his nomination of Appeals Court Judge Barbara Lenk to the Supreme Judicial Court was motivated by the fact that she is gay.

Senate President Therese Murray said she wants to see swift action on Patrick’s proposed health care payment reform legislation, breaking with House Speaker Robert DeLeo who has put review of the bill on a slow track.

Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi wants jurors in his upcoming corruption trial to know his family could lose its home if he’s convicted, according to a court filing, a move that prosecutors said smells of a plot to encourage jury nullification.

Two Beacon Hill watchdogs concerned with skyrocketing municipal health care costs find themselves under attack by Robert Haynes, president of the state AFL-CIO. Ratcheting up his usual bluster a few notches, Haynes calls Mass. Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer and Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan “shameless mouthpieces” for “big, shadowy business interests.”

The Boston Herald applauds an effort by Senate President Therese Murray to bring Bloomberg-style data measurement to state government.

Gov. Patrick‘s latest pension reform effort meets blowback.

David Bernstein sees a casino power play in Robert DeLeo‘s slow-moving House. 

MetroWest lawmakers push for a bill that would require state agencies to report on the job creation efforts of companies that receive tax incentives. State Auditor Suzanne Bump says tax credits tend to end up in a black box on Beacon Hill.

CRIME/JUSTICE

Officials say about 150,000 mortgages on file at the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds have cloudy ownership due in part to an alleged scheme by a mortgage transfer company to avoid paying millions of dollars in fees, the Gloucester Times reports.

More allegations have surfaced of child sexual abuse at a Cape Cod summer camp, the Globe reports.

Kristen LaBrie, accused of withholding chemotherapy treatments from her autistic son, takes the stand. Here are stories from the Salem News and the Lynn Item.

POLITICS

Vicki Kennedy talks to the Globe in advance of today’s groundbreaking on Columbia Point for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

TRANSPORTATION

CommonWealthPaul McMorrow tees up just how desperate the T’s financial condition is in his weekly Globe column.

MBTA General Manager Richard Davey gets an earful from commuter rail customers in Salem, the Salem News reports.

MUNICIPAL

The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, examines how Tewksbury and Chelmsford respond to pressing – and costly – municipal needs.

The North Adams Transcript chides Adams selectmen for rejecting a meals tax.

Foxborough is delaying its annual Town Meeting so it can crunch the numbers on the effect of a proposed meals tax. 

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

State environmental officials dispute a number of claims about the Housatonic River made by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The state bans raw milk sales at a Framingham farm after high bacteria counts were found in the milk.

Cape residents question state environmental officials about the standards for new offshore wind projects.

The House votes to bar the EPA from monitoring industrial emissions linked to climate change. 

HEALTH CARE

Two US senators want to begin disclosing what Medicare pays individual doctors; the payments are currently confidential. 

The Atlantic charts the evolution of US Rep. Paul Ryan‘s statements on Medicare. 

EDUCATION

Springfield takes steps to deal with disruptive students on school buses.

A vote to ban smoking throughout the UMass Amherst campus draws opposition from some students.

The Springfield Republican wants to see western Massachusetts communities take steps to deter school superintendents from resigning mid-year.

BASEBALL

WBUR tells the story of a baseball glove manufacturer – in Worcester. It also tracks down the original Green Monster.

The Boston Public Library is posting online a treasure trove of baseball photos from the collection of a former Boston Herald photographer – just in time for today’s Red Sox home opener, the Globe reports. Focusing on other eras in hardball history, rather than the start to this season, seems like a healthy activity.

MEDIA

A GlobalPost journalist is taken prisoner in Libya, NECN reports.

WASHINGTON

The Globe reports on federal offices and workers in Massachusetts bracing for a possible government shutdown. Policy fights – over abortion and the EPA – are dragging down 11th-hour budget negotiations.

Sixth graders in the small western Massachusetts town of Colrain could be facing a very dark vacation trip to Washington next week if all the sites they planned on visiting are closed down. And the sights they figured to take in on the way down, such as the Statue of Liberty and the US Mint in Philadelphia, would be affected as well.

Redistricting meets lobbying and fundraising. 

ELECTION 2012

How a hit Broadway musical might influence the presidential race and catapult Mitt Romney into the White House…or not.

Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr, a former state senator, faces an uphill battle with local Democratic power brokers in his campaign to unseat US Rep. John Olver.

GAMBLING

Washington, DC, will lead the nation in legalizing online poker, picking a fight with the federal government in the process. 

DRUG ABUSE

Local officials, area police, and advocates for drug abuse treatment testified at a Quincy hearing of the Legislature’s Committee on Substance Abuse and Mental Health about the need for more attention and resources to battle the growing scourge of drug addiction on the South Shore.

PUBLIC RADIO

Less really is more, apparently. WBUR promised to cancel its June fundraising appeal if listeners donated $1 million during last month’s fundraising drive. The call to arms raised $1.4 million, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly twice the amount raised in the previous March, traditionally the slowest time for donations.

TOURISM

The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, in the actual home where someone gave the Fall River spinster’s stepmom and dad 81 total whacks with an axe, will be featured on an upcoming segment of the weekend Today show.

BOOKS

Before she became a culinary icon, Julia Child and her husband Paul were spies for the Office of Strategic Service, the precursor of the CIA, and now a new book explores that covert part of her life.

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In gambling showdown, greed is king

By Michael Jonas

News that things are getting testy among legislators trying to reach agreement on an expanding gambling bill is hardly surprising.  When it comes to jockeying for position in the big-money, high-stakes world of legalized gambling, the long knives are drawn quickly, and the nastiest fights often occur among those who are ostensibly all on the same side.

That’s exactly how things seem to be playing out, with the standoff appearing to center on the House insistence on slot machines at race tracks – a move that Speaker Robert DeLeo apparently sees as his legislative legacy – while the Senate wants only full casinos. Could the failure of either side to budge end up killing any gambling bill for the year? 

That’s exactly what the leading anti-gambling group seems to be hoping, as it seized on the stalemate today and called for the whole effort to be dropped.  “It’s well past time for the speaker and Senate president to stop this greed-driven secret soap opera and focus on producing other bills which will have a positive impact on our Commonwealth,” Kathleen Conley Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, said in a statement.

The showdown reminds me of a conversation I had five years ago when reporting a story for CommonWealth on perennial efforts to bring casinos and slot machines to Massachusetts. Tom Grey, president of the National Council Against Legalized Gambling (since renamed the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation), explained how his best allies are often those in the gambling industry.  Grey said he once found himself conspiring with associates of Donald Trump, who were trying to derail a plan for casinos in New York that would cut into The Donald’s interests in Atlantic City.

From the 2005 CommonWealth story:

“Grey talks about the gambling battle more in the language of the Vietnam War infantryman that he was than the Methodist minister he now is. Grey says he often gets calls from people in the gambling industry who share information with him as part of an effort to do in a rival’s bid. ‘Their greed and their willingness to attack each other is worth two divisions to us,’ he says.”

Slots don’t cure all deficits

By Alison Lobron

The bright lights of casinos have entranced Beacon Hill for years, but a new report from the American Gaming Association offers a stark reminder that glittering slot machines do not cure all budget deficits. The AGA, a trade group that represents Big Gambling’s interests, issued its annual survey of the industry and reports that for the second year in a row, revenues are down.  Even as new casinos were opening, revenues fell 5.5 percent in 2009; in the industry’s overall contributions to municipalities and states fell 1.6 percent.

The AGA is quick to blame the poor showing on Americans’ “shrinking travel and leisure budgets.” But as I described in the Spring Issue of CommonWealth, the real picture is more complex: in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for example, a new casino is struggling to fulfill its promise to the community because its owner, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has yet to funnel enough money into the project to attract out-of-town visitors. Meanwhile, some of the numbers in the AGA’s report are of particular interest as the Senate prepares to take up the issue this spring. (The House passed a bill authorizing new casinos and slot machines in April.)   The states hardest hit by the downturn were the states where gaming is most entrenched, and casinos do not have the thrill of the new:  Nevada and New Jersey.   That should be a reminder to senators that all the revenue predictions for Massachusetts are based on where competing casinos are today – and don’t account for the day when our casinos are run-down and familiar, like Atlantic City, and we face newer, shinier competition from, say, Brattleboro, Vermont.

Phil Primack: Casino chorus sings from shaky data

Phil Primack: Casino chorus sings from shaky data

By Phil Primack

They’re playing your song again, Clyde.

PerspectivesButton Every time casino gambling tunes up on Beacon Hill, the background beat is almost always the same: If we ka-ching it in Massachusetts, we’ll recapture all that money being gambled away by Bay Staters elsewhere in New England. “To see that over $900 million leaves the Commonwealth every year and goes to Connecticut and Rhode Island for gaming, I think that even if we could pick up $700 million of that, we would all take that,” Senate President Therese Murray said last week, in the latest reprise of the casino chorus.

That $900 million figure has become Massachusetts’s own magic data bullet. Except it’s based on a single source — research by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Professors Clyde Barrow — that has been called into doubt, though apparently not by the Senate president. (Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi was skeptical, but the new speaker seems far more willing to believe.)

Gov. Deval Patrick based the revenue and economic claims in his casino proposal last year on the book of Barrow. But as detailed in the Winter 2008 issue of CommonWealth (“Playing the Numbers”), Barrow’s methodology and thus his conclusions (and the fact that his Center for Policy Analysis at UMass-Dartmouth has received funding from pro-casino interests) raise serious questions. And if the Barrow baseline is wrong, so too are the numbers and political arguments based on it.

Casino Since 2004, Barrow's “patron origin analysis,” which mainly consists of surveying cars in out-of-state casino parking lots, has consistently found that about one-third of the patrons at Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino are from Massachusetts. Ergo, one-third of money gambled at Foxwoods is “from” Massachusetts. Ergo, a Massachusetts casino will recapture all that money.

But as the article noted, Mickey Brown, Foxwoods’s former chief executive for much of the 1990s, said the casino’s own surveys — which were more methodical than Barrow’s — “consistently found that about 22 percent of our patron count was from Massachusetts.” Connecticut’s other casino, Mohegan Sun, also pegs its Massachusetts patronage at about 22 percent. Even if Barrow’s higher number was right, to equate patronage percentage with revenue share it misleading anyway. A single high roller from Hong Kong, who doesn’t even have a car in the parking lot, spends a whole lot more than, say, 100 casual day trippers from Massachusetts.

Without doubt, a lot of Bay Staters spend a lot of dollars at out-of-state casinos. Also without doubt, Massachusetts could reclaim some of that money with its own casinos. But how much — and at what costs to the Lottery, local businesses, law enforcement and other aspects of society — must be carefully analyzed, not magically presumed.

Phil Primack is a contributing writer for CommonWealth magazine. Creative Commons photo by Old Shoe Woman.

Casino culture

Despite last week’s burying of Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino bill, don’t look for the gambling industry to go quietly into the good night.  The Boston Herald reports today that casino interests are keeping a steady eye on the Bay State for fresh opportunities to take another run at legalizing casino gambling.  "Politics is patience and perseverance," Jan Jones, government affairs cheese for Harrah’s Entertainment, tells the Herald.  It almost sounds like the sort of keep-on-keepin’-on attitude that eventually led to victory in heroic battles for women’s suffrage or voting rights for blacks. 

Those are not exactly the sort of references used by casino critics to describe the relentless drive of the gambling industry.  In a 2005 article in CommonWealth magazine on the perennial push for expanded gambling, state Rep. Dan Bosley, the Legislature’s leading casino opponent, offered a different sort of imagery:

One year, the Legislature voted down a gaming bill on a Monday or Tuesday, then, “on Thursday one of the gambling interests came in to see me and says, ‘How can we change your mind,’” [Bosley] says. “It’s like Freddy Krueger. It keeps showing up no matter how many movies it dies at the end of.”

Gaming the casino job numbers

Today’s Boston Sunday Globe features a front-page story by Sean Murphy questioning the Patrick administration’s claim that 30,000 construction jobs would be created if the governor’s proposal for three casinos were approved.  The Globe story calls Patrick’s jobs estimate "excessively optimistic," and backs up that contention with plenty of evidence from similar projects that generated far fewer hard-hat jobs.

The story should come as no shock to CommonWealth readers, since it sounds an echo of the questions raised in contributing writer Phil Primack’s story for the winter issue of the magazine, published in late January.  In "Playing the Numbers," Primack threw plenty of cold water on the idea of 10,000 construction jobs per casino, citing figures from construction of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and from a huge expansion project at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino to suggest that the administration was wildly overstating the number of construction jobs that could be created.  The 2006 announcement of a planned $740 million expansion at Mohegan, for example, said the project would generate 1,400 construction jobs, less than 15 percent of the number of jobs the administration claims would be generated by the construction of a $1 billion casino.

The CommonWealth story raised doubts not only about the construction jobs numbers, but also questioned the administration’s claims concerning the scale of gambling operations that the regional market could support and the touted spillover benefits on the local economy.

Patrick’s proposal faces a tough audience in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Sal DiMasi remains wary of casinos.  Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Bosley, who chairs the economic development committee that will hold hearings on the bill, is the Legislature’s staunchest opponent of expanded gambling.  Bosley has long questioned the economic benefits claimed by casino proponents.  The CommonWealth story and today’s Globe report aren’t likely to help the administration’s cause when he gavels the hearings to order.

Arlington bets on casino revenue

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed budget for fiscal 2009 includes revenue from casino licensing fees, even though casino gambling has not yet been approved by the Legislature (see Boston Globe story by Frank Phillips). Now town goverments may follow Patrick’s lead, if a story by Shauna Stavely in the Arlington Advocate is any indication. Stavely reports that Arlington town officials are basing revenue projections on the assumption that casino money will make up for any shortfall in aid from the state lottery. Town manager Brian Sullivan says that $657,000 in local aid "depends on the casino plan," adding that "if support can’t be garnered for casino revenue, then [the governor and the Legislature] need to find it somewhere else."

A reminder: Contributing writer Phil Primack examines the economic assumptions behind Patrick’s casino plan in the current issue of CommonWealth.