Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pandora's Casino

All it takes now to open for once and forever the lid on casino and slot gambling here is Gov. Deval Patrick's signature on the disgraceful bill finalized yesterday. There's a tiny chance you can influence him with a call, email, visit or letter (go to the contacts page to pick your method[s]).

However, in a for-God's-sake-do-something economic panic, Patrick and the frequently sensible Senate President Therese Murray turned blind and stupid. Against all evidence, they are:
  • Pretending that commonwealth will get big revenue gains from gambling
  • Pretending that casino and slots money will come from out-of-state gamblers and from money our residents would spend elsewhere
  • Pretending that there will be substantial increases in employment here short and longer term
  • Pretending that huge increased costs for infrastructure and other state support will somehow not be huge
  • Pretending that we alone will break the pattern of Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Mississippi and the other casino/slot destinations that have destroyed economies, elevated unemployment, and zombie-like addicted gamblers
  • Pretending that the new joints won't destroy and cannibalize the existing lottery

Don't Rush

As it appears inevitable that we'll be starting the slide with the three casinos and the crack house slot parlor, those with any wits should do the best possible in that case. Just over a month ago, casino expert William Eadington was in town at a Rappaport Center session on this very subject. We are doing none, nada, zip of the best practices that minimize the damage and maximize the gains of gambling.

In the shortest form, what the few places that have managed this process well have done start with getting highly detailed proposals for any casino. Instead, we're doing the absolutely stupidest way of taking bids and looking for the one that promises the best return on only vague plans.

In contract, places like Singapore and Melbourne did it right, taking several years to evaluate full proposals and considering all the effects. They ended up with true destination resorts that attract tourists for a lot more than gambling and for a long longer stays (and more expenditure).

They also tightly control access by locals to minimize effects of addictive gambling. Known abusers are ID'ed and refused entry.

Even before this proposal stage, which should last several years, the government should be clear on what it expects. Then it can set up the operations to those aims. For example, Pennsylvania charges high taxes on winnings because its aim is increased tax revenue. Singapore charges very low taxes because it aims to create that destination resort, earning from non-gambling activities as well. In addition, its tax policy lures the highest rollers from far away.

We have not done that and apparently do not intend to do so. Instead, our legislators and the executive branch seem blindly digging into gambling mud, hoping to come up with some extra money.

The other key aspect Eadington noted gets snorts and guffaws from MA residents. The process for setting up and overseeing the casinos/slots has to be highly honorable and transparent (Pause to laugh loudly.)

We saw the opposite at its worst. As the cliché variously runs, Caesar's wife must be above reproach (or suspicion). Instead, we suspect dirty dealing by lawmakers even before the gambling passed. Instead of forbidding legislators' involvement in gambling ownership or operations forever, we dropped down to five years after leaving the General Court, then the already suspect lawmakers knocked that to a single year. Now even some of them are wailing about the onus of not being able to suckle on the gambling teats of this cow they have fed immediately.

This process has been dirty from the beginning and stinks more every time the legislature touches it.There's no way to shut the lid on this Pandora's box once Patrick makes the act into law with his signature.

He promised us long ago that if casinos came to MA, they would be only a small facet of his plan to develop various types of business. The model was economic development along the line of funding genetic engineering or other technologies.

Perhaps understandably, the deep and wide recession and its effects have washed away his resolve on this. That's no reason not to make it known to him that you don't want him to sign casinos/slots into law.

If that happens as it surely appears likely, the very least we should demand is first, clarification on what we expect from gambling income, and second, two to five years to receive detailed proposals on sites.


1 comment:

Uncle said...

Ever since this red wagon got going, it has seemed doomed to me. I believe there is a finite number of people interested in gambling...and a large number of people within that demographic who are addicts.

It's one pie. The more places try to eat the pie, the smaller each slice becomes. Eventually, the cost to produce each slice will exceed its benefit. It looks like we're damn close to that point now.