Editorial: It’s a bad bet

Gaming is a mug’s game for the people and the government of Massachusetts. But, in a collaboration between the legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick, the casino bill that became law last year permits as many as three casinos in Massachusetts, and one of them, in the southeastern part of the state, is temporarily reserved for a federally recognized tribe. There are two such tribes, the Wampanoag tribe of Aquinnah and its analog, the Wampanoag tribe of Mashpee.

Thankfully, for the purpose of casino operations, Southeastern Massachusetts does not include Martha’s Vineyard.

There are several reasons this is true, although ruthless vigilance will be required of Vineyarders who abhor the notion of casino gambling or slot parlors getting a foothold on this Island. Most important to the effort to repel such boarders, given the pusillanimity of Massachusetts politicians, is that, without question, geography, inaccessibility, and the political Balkanization of Martha’s Vineyard serve us well. A casino here is liable to be a very pesky enterprise indeed, and financially unattractive.

But, there have been ingenious devices proposed to get around even such imposing obstacles. There was a few years ago a little regarded plan to build and telecast a bingo game, to be housed in a studio on Wampanoag land in Aquinnah and distributed on cable to gamblers nationwide who might be eager to ante up. And that notion gave rise to the possibility of a bingo parlor associated with the bingo studio, to serve the betting needs of Islanders and their summer visitors. There was no future in the idea then, but now, who knows?

The temporary reservation of one gaming location in Southeastern Massachusetts for a federally recognized Indian tribe does not mean that either the Mashpee or the Aquinnah members of their respective Indian nations will finance and control the development of a casino. They will join investors and experienced casino developers who will finance and organize the campaign for permission and, if successful, the implementation of their development and operational plans. Underlying all the enthusiasm for casinos among politicians, Indians, and gamblers, there is a greater and more influential enthusiasm for business success and derivative enrichment of public and private dependents. As our report in this morning’s newspaper suggests, the track records of both Wampanoag branches in finding partners and succeeding in joint endeavors is poor.

To those who criticize the drive for Massachusetts to get into the casino business, this history is comforting. But, no matter which side of the casino issue one joins, this history suggests that it is the professional gaming industry investors and the State House politicians who befriend and truckle to them who will ultimately control the future of high stakes gaming in the Commonwealth.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Aquinnah Wampanogs, told The Times this week, “Our rights to game have never been given away or taken away.” But, it is likely that before three casinos are set to open in Massachusetts, those rights will be expropriated, not by the neighbors of the tribes, or by the towns in which they live, or by the state’s political leadership, but by the professional casino operators who will deal themselves the best cards.