The East Boston Times has an editorial on Page 4 of this week's paper that is long on praise for putting a casino in the neighborhood, but short on facts and logic. I don’t believe that it’s a good idea for the state and especially not for East Boston. From everything I’ve heard and read, most of the upside to legalizing casinos is wiped away by the numerous downsides.
***Hundreds of millions of dollars will be wagered, but most of that will go to casino owners and developers, many of them from out of state (like Suffolk Downs owner Richard Fields). This is yet another example of the rich getting richer. Whatever retail and food options a local casino provides could take money away from local small businesses. A study on introducing casino gambling to the state from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government said that “general merchandise earnings among businesses in a 50-mile radius … [of] commercial casinos reduced such earnings by 13 percent and Foxwoods-style Indian casinos did so by 57 percent.” So we’d be taking money from local business owners and giving it to millionaires.
***Millions of dollars in taxes will be generated, but much of that will be needed to pay for more police officers, redesigned roadways and other infrastructure adjustments. The study said that “the introduction of a commercial casino corresponds to a 21 percent increase in motor vehicle thefts and a 27 percent increase in robberies,” and that, “In Ledyard, Connecticut [the location of the Foxwoods casino] the total number of crimes increased 632 percent” from 1991 to 1998. To combat this, the study said, the “average police expenditures in the 16 largest recent casino counties increased …39 percent faster … across the states in which casinos were located.” The Times editorial says that the state lottery “will be affected a bit,” but remember that most of that money goes right to cities and towns, so whatever is lost will be cut from municipal budgets and put into the wallets of wealthy casino owners.
***Jobs are created when people are hired to build the casinos and then to staff them, but most of the long-term jobs are minimum-wage positions cleaning toilets, selling merchandise, dealing blackjack, etc. (Before praising multi-millionaire Richard Fields as a champion of labor, ask him why the jockeys at Suffolk Downs have no health care.) Sure, people will take those jobs, but let’s not make a future casino out to be a fountain of good-paying jobs. Also, according to the Harvard study, “Casinos could also reduce local employment (or at least redistribute jobs away from local businesses) if people come to a casino instead of patronizing local businesses.”
***A local casino would increase traffic. “Ledyard’s Planning Director calculated a 4-fold increase in traffic on roads in their jurisdiction since the casino opened,” says the Harvard study. McClellan Highway is congested at rush hour as it is, and vast numbers of cars would be headed toward Suffolk Downs if there were slots or a casino there. Some of those cars would spill onto local streets in order to avoid the highway. More traffic means more accidents; more accidents in East Boston means that our auto insurance rates go up. The Ted Williams Tunnel reduced the back-ups that we saw every day on neighborhood streets. Would we be inviting all of that back?
***The study also says that, “residents of communities near casinos were twice as likely to have pathological gambling problems” and “counties with casinos also experienced 10 percent increases in personal bankruptcies.” It’s not true that local residents who gamble at a nearby casino would have just spent that money on a trip to Connecticut. The study notes that, “the presence of a casino within 50 miles was associated … with an increase in average per-capita casino expenditures from $52 to $178.” People drop three times as much at a casino if it’s more convenient to get to. Also, the study points out, “Large quantities of cash may also attract organized crime, money laundering, and petty corruption.”
There seems to be little doubt that gaming in some form is coming to Massachusetts soon, as Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Bob DeLeo are all on board on the matter. Mayor Menino has also expressed support of a casino in East Boston (though strangely, not in Readville).
There may be more facts and opinions to review and discuss on this matter, and reasonable people can disagree, but the East Boston Times editorial takes an issue that is of major importance to this neighborhood and cavalierly dismisses the negative issues. The concerns raised by those opposed to legalized gaming in Massachusetts have merit and should be addressed seriously by the media and by those in power.