Saying no to Casinos

It’s over for this year.  The House voted down the Governor’s casino
proposal by a margin of 106 to 48 this evening.

The fabulously wealthy national casino operators had the best lobbyists
and public relations people that money could buy.   Some elements in
organized labor issued forceful political threats against no-voting
casino legislators.  The Governor and his staff heavily lobbied undecided

But in the end, the deliberative process of the House led to an
overwhelming ‘no’ vote.  House members were exposed to a huge volume of
facts and opinions, both formally and informally, over the months leading up
to the vote.

Certainly, the opposition of House leadership played a part in the magnitude
of the final no vote.  But, given the equal or greater pressures on the
other side, I believe that the final vote more or less reflected the true
judgments of House members.

From the beginning of the debate some months ago, I indicated that I was
likely to vote no.  I did, in fact, vote no.

For the record, I would like to summarize the considerations that influenced
me most strongly.

First, public leadership is a scarce resource.  We really can’t do
everything well.   We need to do many things to achieve sustainable economic
growth.  We need to be wary of any one thing that is likely to crowd out
other equally important issues on the agenda.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the money-fueled circus that casinos
create.  The controversies wouldn’t end if we allowed three destination
resort casinos.  They would only expand.

Second, a ‘no’ vote was a vote for the lesser of two evils.   It is possible
that the casino operators who are using the Wampanoag tribe may eventually
get one “class 2” bingo hall. But they will never get slot machines without
legislative approval.

Slot machines are to bingo as heroin is to a glass of wine.  Slot machines,
like cigarettes, are thoroughly engineered to be addictive.

Slot machines are where people drop the most money and do the most damage to
themsleves and their families.

Slot machines also account for the vast majority of casino revenues.  The
hotels and restaurants and theaters in a casino mall — the so-called
“amenities” — are there only to feed customers to slot machines.   And
without the revenues that slot machines create, casino malls will not be

Which brings me to my third point:  Destination resort casinos are basically
entertainment malls developed in rural areas.

They are the exact opposite of “smart growth.”   The last thing we want to
do is build entertainment malls that will kill local hospitality
businesses.  The resort casinos — to which most guests would have to travel
longish distances — would have immense carbon footprints compared to local

Finally, we need to keep in mind the assets that make Massachusetts
distinctive – the great universities, hospitals, and financial and
scientific companies and our educated and motivated workforce.

We need to do everything we can to strengthen and build on those assets and
to enhance our world-wide reputation.  Let Nevada be Nevada.   I am proud to
be from Massachusetts.

I do not believe that we are passing on an attractive revenue opportunity by
voting no.  Truly objective information is hard to come when there is so
much financial steam behind an issue.  But some estimates are that the net
revenues from casinos would be zero or negative.  We already have a very
profitable and mature gambling establishment in this state, the lottery.
Damage to the lottery would fully or partially offset gains from casinos.

  The critical issue that made me struggle with this vote was the jobs
issue.  Casinos would create some temporary construction jobs and some
fairly stable low-skill jobs.  We need to create jobs in both of these
categories to spread the wealth in our economy.

By the time of the vote, I had concluded that there would be substantial
offsetting job losses as local hospitality businesses were shuttered.

And from a larger job growth perspective, it is much more important to get
our long-term development strategy right than it is to take advantage of
possible increment of jobs that casinos seem to offer.  A continuing casino
circus could very easily impair progress on other issues.

The casino question is just one of many important economic issues before
us.  With a labor force of over three million in Massachusetts, even a one
percent improvement exceeds the job impact of casinos.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.