Broken promises and changed deals

Back to main

Sue Tucker is a Democratic state senator from Andover.

When asked whether or not Massachusetts should have casino gambling, people inevitably imagine one or two fancy Connecticut-style resorts somewhere far away from their neighborhood. Sadly, once the Legislature and governor go all-in on legalizing slot machines, the landscape changes.

Regardless of the number of casinos or racinos allowed under legislation, the taxation rate set through the legislative process, or the proposed consumer and workplace protections, the deals will change. They always do. Most states that open their door to casinos find that the promises made by the casino industry are broken. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the promised “resort” most certainly has its predatory slot machines, but the promised hotel is a big hole in the ground resembling the former Filene’s in Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

Not only do the nice, upscale amenities disappear, as they did in Rhode Island at Twin River, so do any laws or regulations designed to make casinos less predatory, healthier, safer, or a bit more consumer-friendly.

The smoking ban passed by the city council in Atlantic City to protect the health of casino workers lasted 12 days because casinos complained they could not compete with casinos in other states. The voters in Lincoln, Rhode Island, overwhelmingly said “no” to 24-hour slot operations. Now, the slots operate 24/7 because “profits were not as high as predicted.” A consumer-friendly provision in Missouri once required customers to “cool off” and briefly leave the casino once they had lost $500. That provision is now gone because the Missouri casinos argued that they could not compete with neighboring casinos.

Years ago, Massachusetts banned “happy hours” in restaurants and bars because studies showed that they clearly contributed to the drunk-driving carnage on our highways. Yet, casinos will get their own liquor law. It’s called free booze, and it is used to keep people playing longer and harder so that casinos can maximize their profits.

Massachusetts has already seen how gambling grows. When the Massachusetts Lottery was started, it was promised that it would be one drawing per week and that it would solve all of our education funding problems. There now seem to be an endless amount of scratch tickets and drawings, while our schools are still struggling. Although the Lottery may be a lousy and regressive way to raise money, modern casinos take the Lottery to a whole new level of predatory gambling. Unlike the Lottery, casinos actively seek out and market to potential addicts, serve them booze 24 hours a day, and will put a lien on their home. And, at the end of the day, the casino profits get shipped out of state or overseas.

Whatever is on the table in Massachusetts today will change tomorrow. When the two recognized Native American tribes get their casinos under a federal law that gives them the rights to the highest form of gambling the state allows, existing casinos will be forced to compete in a saturated market with sovereign nations that do not have to comply with the same laws or tax rates. Add to that the very real scenario that New Hampshire will legalize slots on the Massachusetts border and the competition argument for lower taxes, seedier venues, and ever more predatory practices will reign supreme.

Once Massachusetts sanctions casinos, there will be no turning back. Massachusetts will have invested tens of millions of dollars in setting up a huge new bureaucracy to regulate and oversee casinos. Millions more in taxpayer dollars will have been spent on interchanges and roadwork to improve access to those casinos. Your state government will be the single largest stakeholder in casino profits. Whatever the casinos want, they will get. Casinos will promise more jobs and revenue. In reality, a few wealthy investors will get even wealthier off the backs of our lower-income families and those addicted to gambling.

Back to main