Place your bet
Casinos in Massachusetts are still a long political debate and a vote in the state House of Representatives away, but Gov. Deval Patrick's commitment to the idea is clear. This week, the governor made clear that he would enlist the support of members of the state's Congressional delegation to lobby skeptical Massachusetts lawmakers to help make his case on Beacon Hill and among the voters. In general, according to reporting by the State House News Service, congressmen mostly support the governor's casino plan or prefer to let the state's voters decide the question.
Usually, it's a matter of money. The state needs more, and casinos promise a significant flood of it, as much as $450 million by the governor's attractive calculations. The downside, if any, isn't worth discussing.
The governor's casino bill, filed last week and facing resistance in the House, or at least from the House Speaker, calls for three casinos in the state, one likely in Southeastern Massachusetts, perhaps Middleboro, an enticing stop for an Islander bound for Boston. Another near Boston, perhaps Suffolk Downs, and one in Western Massachusetts, perhaps Palmer, complete the governor's distribution plan. Local voter approval of the siting will be required, and there is substantial enthusiasm already recorded in the three proposed areas.
Governor Patrick is also committed to other economy building initiatives, for instance the development of renewable energy technologies and the encouragement, with billions in state inducements, of biomedical and stem cell research. He envisions a Massachusetts future of wind farms, stem cell banks, and slots.
"The main reason for allowing it is, human beings like to do it," anything-goes Rep. Barney Frank, the Democrat who represents Southeastern Massachusetts in Congress, told a reporter. Mr. Frank is chairman of the House financial services committee that is looking to loosen federal restrictions on Internet gambling. The Tenth District Congressman William Delahunt, also a Democrat, is a casinos supporter.
Niki Tsongas of Lowell, the winner of the Congressional seat vacated by former representative, now University of Massachusetts chancellor, Marty Meehan, has been a longtime opponent of casinos. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy "personally opposed the extension of gambling in Massachusetts, but it's an issue for the governor and the legislature to decide. If the state approves a gambling compact, Senator Kennedy will respect that decision," the senator's spokesman explained. Sen. John F. Kerry, according to a spokesman, will also defer to state legislators and voters.
Statewide, the electorate, judged by recent polls, is mildly seduced by the notion of in-state gaming. More than 50 percent of those polled approve the casino idea. Money and the chimera of real estate and income tax reductions, or at least a reduced rate of increase in these burdens, together with shorter distances to drive for gaming challenges, appear to be the winning inducements.
Nobody believes that gambling takes the crippling toll its bashers say it does. Look at the chaos and lost tax revenue during Prohibition, the argument goes, and haven't we done well since those pesky temperance campaigners were quieted? And indeed, gambling seems to put a smile on the face of its practitioners, not because they are winners of course, but because they believe - without any foundation at all - that they will certainly be. None of us doubts that our number will come up. Even our antipathy toward so-called trophy houses is moderated by the heartening certainty that when we win our big pot, we'll build one bigger and more lavish. We spend, confident that the colossal jackpot that awaits us will carry us to new heights of consumption. We think just like the governor does.