Responsibility rests with Patrick
Kathleen Conley Norbut is president of
United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.
was the Massachusetts Attorney General from 1991 to 1999.
Last week on Beacon Hill, a handful of reporters were joined by a few state representatives and a state senator with the temerity to practice democracy. The group sought to observe negotiations of the House and Senate conference committee on casino gambling. The senator, reps and media were summarily ejected by the bipartisan committee that now holds the future of the Commonwealth in its hands. It was just the latest insult in a flawed legislative process over legalizing casinos that will come to some type of conclusion in the next two weeks.
We question why the Legislature has refused to calculate the inherent costs that accompany legalizing expanded predatory gambling. These are major fiscal and public policy decisions that have not been vetted with a balanced, independent review. It is unfortunate that proponents have hidden behind the cry for desperately needed jobs and revenues as their justification for these mistaken and costly ventures without ensuring that essential public protections are in place, without up-to-date, objective, hard economic and job data, and without recognizing the real costs, the inflated promises, and the impact of the gambling industry’s political influences on Beacon Hill. Citizens have seen their voices muted by the drumbeat of special interests and the lobbyist proliferation in the State House since Gov. Deval Patrick announced his support for casinos three years ago.
Still, we think the best hope for the realization that this casino bill, at this time, is truly a bad bet for Massachusetts lies with Gov. Patrick.
That is why we joined with other distinguished Massachusetts business leaders, clergy and activists in writing directly to the governor last Thursday to implore him to immediately appoint an independent commission to examine the full range of costs that will be incurred if we allow casinos or to veto whatever bill the Legislature sends him. This appeal, which has so far met with silence from our governor, is based on his request in December for a “fresh, independent and transparent analysis of the benefits and costs of expanded gaming.”
The Legislature has performed no such study and has gone out of its way to circumvent this basic fiduciary responsibility. In short, under the pressure of leadership, the House and Senate have failed to do their homework.
We realize it may seem like casinos have been studied and debated ad nauseam, but, as with any economic development initiative, the success or failure of a proposal is not a static thing. The casino market, like all other segments of the economy, is extremely volatile, with deep losses in revenues, jobs, and a crippled ability to finance capital projects. That makes it imperative for, as the governor suggested, an updated benefits and cost review based on current market data.
Instead, the House – in a study funded by campaign contributions to Speaker Robert DeLeo, the chief backer of highly addictive slot machines – updated a benefits-only analysis from a prominent casino industry analyst group, not an independent group. The Senate spent $80,000 in taxpayer money to hire a group with deep ties to the casino industry and asked it only to “justify” the benefits of the bill, again deliberately avoiding public exposure of the costs.