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10:16 pm: Casinos

Sending a letter to my representatives about the “gaming” bill going through MA.

April 15, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

I am writing to oppose the “gaming” bill being considered by the Massachusetts legislature. As I understand it, the proposal is to license a number of large “destination” casinos which will offer gambling, as well as other entertainment including restaurants, and lodging. The principal argument in favor of the proposal seems to be that it will create jobs in Massachusetts – on the model of the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.

So far as I can tell, two sorts of jobs would be created by this proposal. There will be a surge of construction work at the beginning, followed by a steady supply of low paid service industry positions. These will be mostly housekeeping staff, croupiers, restaurant servers, and so on.

My concern, structurally, is that the jobs created by this effort are not (for the most part) viable long term careers. I do not know the usual career paths of cocktail waitstaff, craps dealers, and bouncers – but I assume that they do not follow an entrepreneurial model, move into management, earn equity in the casino, and assume leadership roles in the local business community. As to the artists, a casino brings in national and international touring companies. If we want to support local entertainers and artists, we would be better served with investment at the community level. The acts headlining these destination resorts will not be Massachusetts talent, for the most part, and their fees will leave the state as soon as they move to the next stage.

This leads to my second objection – that the majority of the profits from these efforts will almost certainly not accrue to Massachusetts businesses. My understanding is that the major Las Vegas corporations (Harrah’s, for example) will open what amount to branch offices here. The local entrepreneurs who were previously earning the Massachusetts entertainment dollar will find themselves competing with (and losing to) remote businesses who will take their profits home with them. The businesses in the communities surrounding these destinations will be competing at the low end, since the “destination” will obviously provide the luxury accommodations for their high rollers.

At the very least, we should tax these profits heavily, but I think that we could do better still by investing locally.

There is a thicket of moral arguments surrounding legalized gambling. I do not suppose that the supporters of this bill are proceeding from that perspective, but it is worth mentioning anyway. If we were to discuss a broader legalization of gambling – there are more intelligent ways to do it. This legislation seems tuned to the advantage of large corporations. Instead, we might encourage (say) neighborhood poker and betting lounges that would keep the profits in the state.

My objection to this bill is that it will take money from those who can least afford it, cater to addictive, unproductive behaviors, send the profits out of state, and create dead end jobs along the way. I have heard are that we hope that Massachusetts residents (and those of neighboring states) will either spend more money on entertainment, or at least spend their current entertainment dollars here. The belief, I suppose, is that this money is currently either remaining in our pockets or is leaving the state. I would suggest that a strategy of “spend more on entertainment,” is a poor way out of a recession created by excessive consumption. I think that the way out of the current economic troubles is to invest in productivity, not gambling. We should be encouraging growth throughout the state – not in a few dubiously lucky locations. We should be investing in local business – not inviting the Las Vegas jackals here.

The reality of expanding gambling is that it takes money from those in the community who can least afford it. I have traveled extensively, including to India and Haiti. Every country, state, and town has its share of desperately poor people who spend their last dollars on lotto tickets and alcohol rather than on food and education for their children. I do not want Massachusetts to follow that model. I oppose this bill in all its forms.


Boston, MA

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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