Here in the Northeast, it’s a well-established fact that taxation of the stupid, the desperate, and the morally challenged is good for government. In Massachusetts, in fact, the numerous lottery products generated $3.9 billion in gross revenues during fiscal year 2001. The lottery commission is constantly working to bring the public new and improved gambles on which to spend its money.
And the general public seems to love it. On days preceding lottery drawings for huge pots, non-players might as well abandon hope of picking anything up at a convenience store. The line of those buying what they hope is their ticket to riches often wraps around the stores and spills into the street.
Gambling, which was once viewed as morally deficient behavior, particularly in this neck of the woods, has now become a patriotic duty. According to the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, “More than $864 million was distributed to the cities and towns of Massachusetts to support education, public safety, capital improvements, and countless other local programs.” So, it’s “for the children.” How would our liberal nanny state support such programs without our gambling dollars?
Now, several Indian tribes are seeking to do their best for the community as well. They have proposed that they build one or more casinos in order to benefit the children of the commonwealth.
Not to be left behind, the State of Maine, once part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also has its casino proposal. Two Indian tribes have an option on about 300 acres in southern Maine. They plan to build a “Resort Casino” in the economically-depressed town of Sanford. Local citizens, eager for new jobs and the promised revitalized economy, welcome the idea. Many other Mainers are assuming that the plan will get the go-ahead when it’s put before the voters in a referendum next November.
Not everybody is just going along. There are still a few voices speaking out against gambling in general and casinos in particular. I attended a hearing on several gaming proposals at the State House in Boston not too long ago. The hall was packed, the most visible contingent being primarily non-English speaking casino supporters wearing T-shirts with the slogan, “Casinos + Unions = Good Jobs.” Despite that sentiment and the growing sense of panic over the state’s fiscal situation, however, testimony was heard on both sides – in fact several sides – of this issue.
Members of several diverse religious groups expressed their collective desire that the Commonwealth delve no deeper into the gaming industry. Calling gaming “an ill wind which brings no good,” the Rev. Dr. Edward Dufresne of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford stated, “For us, it is a moral issue when our government considers gambling with its net loss economic effect and its devastating social consequences as a quick financial fix in a time of budget crisis. As spiritual leaders, we decry the pain and human losses that the poor, the young, the elderly and the addicted will suffer if this predatory industry is allowed to exploit our people and change our way of life forever.” Presenting his own set of studies and statistics, as did witnesses on both sides of the issue, Dufresne laid out several reasons that his coalition of Liberal and Evangelical Protestants as well as Catholics, oppose casino gambling. He and the other clergy witnesses urged the committee to resist, “the temptation to gamble on a ‘quick-fix,” casino solution in difficult times. Casino gambling will be a burden, not a blessing, if it is allowed to come to Massachusetts.”
Perhaps most vehement in their testimony against casino gambling in Massachusetts were two residents of neighboring states, which have already begun the trek down the road to dependency on casino gambling revenue. Sen. Rhoda Perry, a member of the General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island, testified that since gambling has been legal in the land of Roger Williams the cost has been immense in both monetary and social terms. As a purely practical matter, she urged that if Massachusetts does go down the road to casino gambling that it at least not link casinos and racing. She said, “In Rhode Island, dog racing has become a loss leader for casino gambling.”
The most articulate and most passionate opponent of casinos at this hearing was Jeff Benedict, a resident of Connecticut, where he said “[W]e have the benefit of ten years’ experience.” An attorney and the author of Without Reservation, a book describing the creation of the Foxwoods Casino by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut, Benedict describes that gambling empire as one based on “fraud” and systematic skirting of the law. Among other things, Benedict claimed that casinos do not create new revenues or new jobs. They merely move them from one place to another. He also said that of the 2,300 casino jobs in Connecticut, not one is a union job.
Congratulating the Massachusetts Legislature for its willingness to hold hearings on the topic, Benedict said that his state did not have such hearings. He said, “We dove into a pool, the depths of which we did not know.”