Last week, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo unveiled a comprehensive bill that seeks to liberalize Massachusetts’s gambling laws. Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 failed in a similar effort in 2007, but the tide may be turning. Yesterday, the bill won the committee backing that it needed in order to proceed, meaning that Massachusetts may be well on its way to joining the list of over 30 other states that allow hotel casinos.
We encourage the state legislature to pass DeLeo’s bill and hasten the construction of the two resort-style casinos and four race-track slot machine banks for which it calls. Although we recognize that gambling may not be the most productive industry, or the most morally sound, the economic benefits for both the public and private sectors that follow from allowing in-state casino operation far outweigh the moral grievances that some individual citizens contend should force the government to disallow it. So long as Massachusetts actively works to prevent and counteract the negative consequences excessive gambling can have on society, we see no reason that the state should continue to deny individuals the chance to win (or lose) big.
It’s no secret that Massachusetts is badly in need of jobs and money. House leaders who are in favor of the bill estimate that the casinos and slots it proposes will create 15,000 jobs for Bay State-ers. Industry officials are even more optimistic, saying that each casino could generate up to 12,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent ones in the service sector thereafter. The state could ensure that job creation is maximized by requiring casino developers to invest a high minimum amount of money in the construction, perhaps around $500 million or even more. Such a requirement would also go a long way toward preventing the seediness that is popularly associated with gambling and instead fostering a luxury resort experience.
If passed, the bill would also make great strides toward closing the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit. Simply selling the licenses for the slots and casinos would generate an immediate one-time payment of $75 million to $100 million that would help tremendously in the short term. In the longer term, the state would collect 25 percent of the revenue from both casinos, adding a projected $250 million to $300 million dollars per year to its dry coffers.
Opponents who contend that having gambling in-state would bring on a tidal wave of immorality should recognize, first and foremost, that Connecticut—a state which permits casinos and gamblings—is not very far away. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun bring in billions in revenue for themselves and hundreds of millions more for the state of Connecticut. The residents of Massachusetts with the worst gambling problems already have an outlet for them only a short drive away and are probably currently spending their money across the border. Casual gamblers, too, take their money out of state to play. Massachusetts would be wise to keep this money circulating in-state by opening casinos here rather than allowing it to flood out. In this instance, making gambling only slightly more accessible would mean a tremendous increase in the amount of state funds that could be spent in a worthy manner.
We do recognize, however, that in-state casinos would allow for a more impulsive breed of gambling that could possibly make problems more severe where they exist already and create ones where they don’t. If the state is to bring casino-style gambling within its borders, it must also recognize that a handful of its citizens may develop an addiction. Massachusetts should dedicate some of the revenue generated from any future casinos to providing infrastructural support for programs that aim to temper and cure gambling-related issues among citizens.
This does not, however, necessitate a publicly run entity. For instance, the state could provide tax incentives to private organizations or mental-health professionals seeking to address gambling issues. Any opportunity for legislators and individuals to create innovative solutions to new problems is a good one. One such solution employed by the state of New Jersey in order to combat gambling problems is a system that allows citizens to voluntarily ban themselves from in-state casinos. Massachusetts would do well to provide the same service and encourage its citizens—and employ its workers—to come up with others as well.
Though casinos are often thought of as immoral institutions that promote unhealthy behavior, such costs are far outweighed by the benefits that Massachusetts would receive from having them in-state and not right across the border. When citizens are allowed to gamble responsibly—and those who don’t receive help that is sponsored by the state—Massachusetts, not the house, will be the true winner.
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