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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Casi-NO

Apparently we can now thank the wretched economy for two things -- plummeting gasoline prices and a temporary end to the debate over casinos in Massachusetts.

The Globe's Matt Viser reports the spirit isn't all that willing to resume the bruising battle that marked the first two years of the Deval Patrick administration. The huge losses being run up by casino owners like Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson come in part from a major drop off in business as well as their own Wall Street meltdowns.

And so far the hard times are not proving the old wives' tale about people looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Lottery sales in Massachusetts are down 4 percent, opening up yet another hole in the budget.

Last year, Patrick set the tone by putting casino revenues into the budget proposal. This year aides say it's "premature to discuss" that option. It will still won't be mature in July when, hopefully, a budget has been signed into law.

The political ramifications of no casino debate would be significant. Patrick has slowly rebuilt some political capital lost in the fight, ironically as House Speaker Sal DiMasi has lost a lot of his over ethics issues.

But Patrick has a lot of unfinished business -- looming 10 percent budget cuts at the same time he needs to address urgent stuff like the transportation mess, education and property tax relief.

And that last one gets awfully tough to address when the bottom is falling out of income, sales and capital gains tax receipts. The governor does not need another bruising battle over a revenue source that may now be proving as ephemeral as taxes themselves.

A weakened DiMasi doesn't need another fight. Period. Particularly when the two pretenders to his throne hold a far different position on casinos.

Supporters are likely to raise the flag again, as they have for many years. But without the governor leading the charge, and with the fools' gold nature of the revenue boost exposed, state-sponsored gambling will not likely dominate the political landscape as it did last year.

That is obviously one less distraction in what will be an awful legislative session.

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