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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rolling the dice

Ultimately, the decision was made by Middleborough selectmen.

The Globe (and Herald) are reporting Deval Patrick is going to unveil a proposal to license three casinos in Massachusetts -- a move that is certain to set off what has already been described by one legislative leader as the defining moment of his term.

While Patrick has been publicly silent on the subject through his long deliberations, it's safe to say a major turning point came watching the Middleborough selectmen make a hasty pact with a individual who really may turn out to be a devil.

The travesty of the rushed Middleborough process and the sordid aftermath is probably all the justification he needed to propose a licensing process that could lead to three or four casinos in Massachusetts.

That and the inevitability of at least one casino (and far less revenue) should the Mashpee or Aquinnah Wampanoags eventually succeed in getting one through the federal licensing process.

And I'm sure a call for a 49 percent hike in the gas tax, highway "user fees" and a potential battles with the powerful police and MBTA Carmen's Union didn't hurt either.

I agree that gambling represents a regressive tax on the people who can afford it the least. I also fear for the destruction of personal lives by people who can't control their addiction.

I may play The Big Game when the jackpot tops $200 million -- and I will spend some time at the slots on vacation, but I will not be one of the folks waiting at the door when the first casino opens.

But the cold, hard reality is folks who do enjoy gambling make the trip to Connecticut and Rhode Island (among other places) regularly -- either for fun or in chasing the elusive dream. You cannot legislate that impulse. You can put safeguards into place.

And that, in essence, is the Patrick proposal, at this writing. The Middleborough fiasco proved conclusively there needs to be a system in place to license and regulate the casino impulse so that public officials know who they are getting into bed with.

Yes, the revenue would be nice, no matter how much or how little there will be. And no, I don't think adding three (or four) casinos will change Massachusetts' essential character as a cultural tourism destination.

But after 16 years of love 'em and leave 'em Republican governors who preached tax avoidance and little else, Massachusetts is at a crossroads. Its roads and bridges are crumbling, its human capital is voting with its feet and leaving -- tired of high property taxes and crummy public services.

With his plans for life sciences, education and the environment, Patrick has sketched out a vision that has been lacking. What's still lacking is a way to pay for it (and for fixing the neglect of the last 16 years).

So in a very real sense, casino gambling will indeed define the Patrick administration. It's time to have a frank and honest discussion of who we are, what we want and how we can get there.

It will be an occasionally nasty ands brutish discussion, but it's long overdue.

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Blogger CFO Directors said...

The best available data suggests that revenue will be eaten up by social costs - possibly as much as $3 in costs for every $1 in revenue.

The hundreds of millions in revenue looks good on paper - but is not.

September 16, 2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

That is exactly the sort of information that I and everyone else needs to learn from the coming debate -- which is all that I am endorsing. The horse is out of the barn because of Indian gaming (and it is pretty lame). We need solid information -- pro or con, to make a rational decision. Thanks.

September 17, 2007 6:40 AM  

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