A loud lament over the latest gambling embrace by state leaders
THERE WERE WHOOPS AND HOLLERS from DraftKings, the state’s casinos, and lawmakers as the state legalized sports betting earlier this month. For Les Bernal, it was not a moment to celebrate, but instead marked a new low in how far Massachusetts would go to draw in revenue by exploiting those most vulnerable to the addictive pull of gambling.
For more than two decades, Bernal has been sounding the alarm over what he calls “the big con” of legalized gambling, a revenue stream that he said states turned to in order to fund basic services with the gambling losses of those who can least afford the hit. Bernal, a 53-year-old Lawrence resident, is national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a Washington-based nonprofit aimed at exposing and stopping the proliferation of legalized gambling.
In the language of the industry it’s out to stop, the group has not exactly been on a roll.
One state after another has jumped into the casino business, and sports betting has now quickly followed as the latest layer in what Bernal says is little more than government-sanctioned exploitation of states’ most vulnerable residents.
While the state engaged in a vigorous debate before finally legalizing casinos in 2011, the battle over sports betting seemed to come down to whether to include college games or not. (The final bill allows that, but not on most Massachusetts collegiate games.) The idea that the state would ultimately open the door to sports gambling in some form was hardly in doubt.
“They got a free ride,” said Bernal.
He said sports gambling has spread with lightning speed since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a federal law that had effectively banned it. Boston’s major sports teams all backed the move, and major media entities have a stake in the action as well. The Associated Press, for example, struck a deal with FanDuel, an online sports betting company, to exclusively cite its odds in all its sports reporting.
Despite promises that Massachusetts would be particularly attentive to the issue of problem gambling, the Globe reported earlier this week that the last state report on the prevalence of problem gambling was released in 2015 – the same year a slots facility opened in Plainville and before either of the state’s full casinos had opened.
Though an update of the report is in the works, Bernal said it will only obfuscate the real nature of the problem. Problem gambling studies done by states tend to report the overall prevalence of the problem. The 2015 report said 2 percent of Massachusetts adults had a gambling problem, similar to national averages in other studies.
But the real question, said Bernal, is what share of the revenue casinos – and states – bring in comes from problem gamblers. An extensive body of research pegs that number at anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of gambling revenue, Bernal said.
Though casino operators insist they want to keep out those with gambling addictions – and similar statements are being made about the sports betting that will soon be underway here – Bernal says that’s nonsense. Those with gambling problems are “central to the business model,” he said. “They’re the backbone of the industry.”
With sports betting, Bernal predicted that gambling addiction will move from something disproportionately suffered by lower-income residents to a more widespread problem among the middle class, with young people particularly vulnerable.
“You have 17-year-olds walking into Gamblers Anonymous in New Jersey,” he said. New Jersey moved within weeks of the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to legalize sports betting.
It’s all part of what Bernal said has been a broader change in the country’s culture as people have increasingly struggled to gain a foothold into the middle class. We’ve moved from the idea of thrift and long-term financial planning to a desperate, go-for-broke mentality to try to strike it big, he said.
“When I was a kid we used to encourage people to buy savings bonds,” he said, recalling that the certificates were often given to children as gifts. “Now you have grandparents giving kids scratch tickets for the holidays.”
Climate change scramble: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu says she wants the city to join a state pilot allowing 10 municipalities to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction projects, but she’s a little late to the game. Ten cities are ahead of Boston, and while there is a good chance some of them will not make the final cut, there’s no guarantee Boston will get in.
– The politics around the pilot are interesting. Wu showed little interest in participating until after Gov. Charlie Baker signed the pilot – which is part of a much broader climate change bill – into law. Baker almost didn’t sign the bill because of the pilot, which he said would discourage housing production.
– The two lawmakers who drafted the climate change bill adopted different stances on Wu’s move. Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin joined Wu at her announcement and suggested there was some wiggle room for Boston to automatically move into the group of 10 communities, but Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington said there was no wiggle room – Boston can’t get in unless some members of the original 10 drop out, which is a strong possibility. (Three of the 10 don’t meet affordable housing requirements.) Even if some communities drop out, Boston is no lock to get in. Barrett said he had encouraged Boston to make its bid earlier. “The city gave us the cold shoulder unfortunately,” he said. “Now we’re in uncertain territory. The way forward for Boston is very difficult now.”
– The pilot allows communities to ban natural gas hookups from new city construction, except for life science labs and hospital facilities. Real estate groups and some union officials oppose Boston’s involvement, but Wu is eager to get started. Read more.
Palfrey’s progressive push: Even as the number of people in Massachusetts prisons keeps dropping, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Quentin Palfrey says the state is arresting and incarcerating too many people. His wish list includes elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and cash bail. Read more.
Mariano urges caution: House Speaker Ron Mariano is tapping the brakes on passing the economic development bill, concerned that the state cannot afford it along with a $3 billion tax cap giveback. Senate President Karen Spilka and Gov. Charlie Baker insist the state can do both. Read more.
Club fined $25,000: The Memoire nightclub at Encore Boston Harbor is hit with a $25,000 fine for over-serving alcohol on five separate occasions. Read more.
Driverless cars: James Aloisi, the former state transportation secretary, rises in defense of autonomous vehicle law. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Six Merrimack Valley mayors urge the Legislature to return and finish work on an economic development bill. (Eagle-Tribune)
Boston Children’s Hospital says it is the target of a harassment campaign because of its transgender surgery program. (WBUR)
Rep. Liz Cheney, who has emerged as former president Donald Trump’s most pointed critic in the Republican Party, was resoundingly defeated in the GOP primary for her Wyoming seat by a Trump-backed rival. (New York Times)
The three Democrats running for lieutenant governor struggled in their latest debate to stand out amid a “sea of policy homogeneity” in which they’re closely aligned on most major issues. (Boston Globe)
Kim Driscoll, Andrea Campbell, and Bill Galvin hold leads in their respective Democratic primary races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, according to a new survey from the MassINC Polling Group. The primary for state auditor was a dead heat between Chris Dempsey and Diana DiZoglio, while the proposed surtax on high-income earners had a 20-point lead. (Boston Herald)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl continues to refuse debates not hosted by conservative radio hosts. (WBUR)
The state’s red-hot housing market appears to be cooling a bit. (Boston Globe)
The turn to electrical vehicles will create enormous need for technicians with training to fix the cars, something a Worcester company is trying to get ahead of. (Boston Globe)
A company seeking to open a marijuana shop in the Florence section of Northampton holds a meeting with the community and gets a hostile reception. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Elected officials are urging the MBTA to reconsider its plans not to include the Orange Line’s Chinatown and Tufts Medical Center stops on the route of replacement bus service during the line’s upcoming month-long shutdown. (Boston Herald)
Anchor bolts holding up a large overhead sign failed, leading to the sign falling onto I-190 in Worcester last week. The state transportation department is inspecting all other highway signs in the area. (Telegram & Gazette)
New video shows the rogue Red Line train that rolled on its own out of a rail yard onto the tracks in Braintree. (Patriot Ledger)
Riders on the Berkshire Flyer say they would like more options for train travel between New York City and Pittsfield. Currently, there is only one train a week, leaving New York at 3 p.m. Friday and returning at 3 p.m. Sunday. (Berkshire Eagle)
The president of a TSA union in Massachusetts is sentenced to probation and home confinement for defrauding her union. (MassLive)