Archive for March, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick’s ill-considered casino gambling proposal went down to a stunning, better than two to one defeat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The vote was 108-46. Now casino proponents are whining that the governor’s bill did not receive a full and fair hearing, even after many months of very public discussion. The simple fact is that the proposal to place three one billion dollar casinos in the state lost on its merits.
I will never understand why Governor Patrick blew so much political capital and public good will in making the three casinos the central feature of his economic plan. Patrick the candidate opposed casinos, knowing full-well the social and economic destruction they leave in their wake. To call his plan regressive, is to generously overstate what casinos are all about. But we have had that debate, and the regressives were routed.
Frank Phillips reported in the Boston Globe:
One of Patrick’s most immediate problems is that the casino initiative alienated a good chunk of his political base, particularly the progressive Democratic coalition that was at the core of his landslide election in 2006.
“I am saddened that he has greatly disillusioned his political base,” said state Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and early Patrick supporter who voted against the casino plan.
Indeed. Candidate Patrick urged us to a higher standard of discourse. He called on us to become more deeply involved not only in politics but in the process of governance. He called for greater transparency in government and broad civic engagement. He said he would set a higher standard and restore trust in government. But, he delivered none of this in his casino gambling gambit. Instead, he fronted for a disreputable “industry;” using data derived almost soley from gambling interests, and those financed by gambling interests. He developed his plan with none of the transparency or civic engagement we expected from candidate Patrick.
I think Candidate Patrick needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with Governor Patrick. I think they have much to say to each other.
Leo Maley’s op-ed in the Amherst Bulletin spells it out. Maley points out that casinos are generally economically distastrous, and “result in considerable individual and societal harm.” Everyone knows that a lot of gamblers become “problem gamblers,” a term which does not nearly explain the breadth and depth of the “problems” faced by individuals, their families, communities and society at large. Maley reports, for example, that “Gulfport, Miss., saw a 213 percent increase in suicides (from 24 to 75) in the first two years after casinos opened in the city. Such numbers are replicated elsewhere.”
Seems to me that one of the best programs for suicide prevention would be to ensure that casino gambling never takes hold in Massachussetts. Here is an excerpt from Maley’s piece:
Money spent in casinos is diverted from other areas of the economy. Area businesses suffer. Looking at data from the state of Illinois, Earl Grinols, author of the most comprehensive book-length study of the economic benefits and costs of casino gambling, found that for every $1,000 in casino revenue, businesses within 10 miles of a casino saw a decline of $367 in merchandise sales. Commercial casinos actually generated net job losses in 42 percent of counties where they were introduced. A study in the June 2007 issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology concludes that the states “should not expect any long-term growth effects from legalizing casino gambling.”
Independently owned restaurants are especially hard hit. Drawing on ample data from regions around the country that have introduced casino gambling, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association estimates that casinos would force the closure of about 200 restaurants in the state.
These macro economic trends can undercut the economic vitality and diversity of an entire region. But the effect on individuals ought to concern us the most. Estimates vary, but it is likely that 40 to 50 percent of gaming machine revenues of a typical casino comes from problem or pathological gamblers.
A comprehensive literature review conducted by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that the rate of problem and pathological gambling addictions double among populations that live within 50 miles of a casino. A recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that more than 10 percent of people over the age of 65 are at risk of having financial problems because of gambling, and that older gamblers are increasing at the fastest rate.
A Harvard Medical School study shows that 6 percent of the population has trouble with gambling at some point in their lives and 4 percent – 250,000 people in Massachusetts – report that in the past year they have had problems controlling their urge to gamble. Now imagine if that number were doubled.