Slots mean instant jobs and tax revenue

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David Flynn is a Democratic
state representative from Bridgewater

The number one issue for me in terms of expanded gambling – and in particular the licensing of slot machines – has always centered on jobs. And this year, in the midst of a severe recession, the jobs factor is more important than ever.

For more than a decade now, since my return to the House of Representatives following tours of duty in the Dukakis and King administrations, I have been working in favor of legislation to save and grow the gaming industry in my district in southeastern Massachusetts.

Raynham Taunton Park is located in one of my district communities. It has been a good neighbor and a contributing partner to Raynham and surrounding communities for more than 60 years. Several years ago more than 800 area residents worked at Raynham, many in part-time jobs, but virtually all of them receiving health care benefits. In addition to the wagering taxes paid by the track to the state, the town of Raynham received almost $1 million a year in property taxes.

Everything has changed since the assault on dog racing. While the 2008 ballot initiative to outlaw live greyhound racing was decisively defeated in southeastern Massachusetts, voters statewide accepted some questionable propaganda and narrowly approved the measure. Dog racing ended at Raynham on the night of December 31, 2009. In testimony to the important part of racing to our regional culture, I was honored to serve as a ceremonial lead-out for one of the dogs in the final race there. It was sad for the workers. It was sad for the town of Raynham.

The Raynham Park payroll now is estimated to be no more than one-third of what it was. The town of Raynham will probably receive less than $250,000 in property taxes this year from Raynham Park. The fate of hundreds of dogs shipped out of state is uncertain. But the end of live greyhound racing hasn’t ended the fight. Simulcasting has allowed Raynham and the state’s other three tracks to continue with some degree of pari-mutuel wagering activity. And now, as this legislative session comes to a close, there is one final lifeline available: slots.

If casinos are approved they would be years away from producing revenue for their host communities and the Commonwealth, and years away from producing permanent jobs. Slots could be up and running in months in these four locations that are already licensed and locally zoned to permit wagering.

Would slots hurt the Massachusetts Lottery? We have suggested hold-harmless provisions regarding lottery revenue. Would slots damage the income of any casinos ultimately licensed here? At a legislative hearing I hosted three years ago, even the heads of national casino ventures suggested that the entertainment-rich destination casinos would not be importantly impacted by local “racinos” at the present tracks.

This legislative session is almost over. The Senate wants casinos. The House wants slots. At stake are literally thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue that slots would produce. Compromise is the nature of government. Let’s get this job done and make slots a part of the final package.

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