Cha-ching! Casinos in Massachusetts a good bet

by Beacon Staff • February 21, 2007

Solving those potential problems, including boosting state education and social program coffers, some state leaders say, could be as easy as bringing the illustrious pull of a slot machine handle just a little closer to home.,With Gov. Deval Patrick spending so much public money on corner office curtains and a Cadillac recently, it's fitting many state politicians are gambling on high rollers to bail Massachusetts out of its many impending financial crises.

Solving those potential problems, including boosting state education and social program coffers, some state leaders say, could be as easy as bringing the illustrious pull of a slot machine handle just a little closer to home.

Last week's decision by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to recognize the Mashpee Wampanoag people has again opened the sometimes-contentious gambling debate on Beacon Hill. As the Commonwealth's second federally-recognized Native American tribe with designated reservation lands, the Mashpee Wampanoag could be the first to cut into business currently flowing south to Connecticut resorts Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

Curbing that southward cash flow has been cited by casino gambling proponents as just one of many reasons for opening up the Bay State to legalized gaming. But it's the broader economic justification of adding gaming to the state's economy promoted by casino advocates that shows just how beneficial a little government-regulated sin can be.

Advocates have said millions of dollars generated by taxing casinos and jackpot winnings could flow into public schools, libraries and social programs benefiting the growing number of residents encountering trouble coping with a high cost of living, fueled by still-astronomical real estate prices.

A local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union representing more than 200 workers at East Boston's Suffolk Downs horse race-track, recently projected that adding slot machines alone to the betting facility could add up to $30 million annually in tax revenue to local government budgets.

With concrete plans in place for four full gaming facilities--those with table games in addition to slot machines--in eastern Massachusetts, it's easy to imagine how casinos, those vilified dens of inequity, could help many communities ease budget concerns in the face of continuing cuts from the state level.

Recent surveys have shown that residents of this blue state are also ready to start ridding themselves of blue laws restricting gambling.

In November, a survey conducted of Commonwealth adults by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth showed 57 percent support casino gambling legalization, with only 30 percent opposing.

A more recent poll conducted earlier this month by local CBS television affiliate WBZ indicated 70 percent of Massachusetts adults would support opening a casino in the eastern half of the state.

Another 10 percent said they would support a casino as long as it wasn't located in their city or town.

While legalizing casinos brings concerns such as a need for the curbing of gambling addictions, it's clear a balance can be struck.

One need look no further than states such as Nevada, New Jersey, Missouri, Michigan and Washington as examples of places where legalized gambling has invigorated stagnant local economies and provided undeniable economic benefits for public education.

It's time for Massachusetts to realize that laws banning gambling rooted in antiquated religious beliefs aren't pragmatic for today's cash-needy society.

In a state faced with consistent struggles for funding public schools and social programs, allowing casino gambling is nothing but a sure-fire bet.