As the state legislature comes together to hash out a final bill that would bring casinos to Massachusetts --the Senate passed its version last night -- here are a few myths that need to be discussed:
Myth #1: It's a jobs bill.
Just because a proposal creates jobs, it isn't primarily "a jobs bill." The Iraq War created jobs in the military, but the authorization for the use of force passed by Congress was not "a jobs bill." A bill to increase border security in the Southwest would create more Border Patrol agents, but it isn't "a jobs bill." Let's call things what they are instead of cloaking them in catchy and misleading slogans.
Of course, some jobs will be created -- some short-term construction jobs and some long-term jobs in the casino and its other businesses. Most of those will be low-paying jobs -- for example, black-jack dealers, which a magazine recently called one of the 20 worst jobs in America, with an average salary of $16,000. A family of two living on that salary would qualify for food stamps and other benefits. While the casino reaps profits, you and I will be paying the social costs.
Myth #2: Suffolk Downs is a sympathetic local business.
Suffolk Downs principal owner is Richard Fields, chairman of Coastal Development, which "finances and develops resort properties, entertainment venues, and casino gaming facilities," according to the company web site. He's not a local guy here to help the community; he is a multi-millionaire who sees a chance to make more millions, money that will go from the pockets of working people and into his bank account -- instead of local restaurants and stores.
How are Suffolk employees treated? Some of the people who currently make their living at the track are jockeys, groomers, trainers and stable hands. Unfortunately, it appears that Fields doesn't think they deserve medical care that's as good as the horses get, so the group Boston Health Care for the Homeless comes by the track two mornings a week to check out broken bones, bites, bruises and other hazards of the trade.
Myth #3: A casino will benefit city and state government.
In testimony last year before the Florida legislature, Earl Grinols, a professor at Baylor and a gaming expert, said that "costs to the government resulting from casino gambling is three dollars for every dollar generated by the activity."
Don't take his word for it. Look at comments from two people who've served as mayor of Ledyard, Conn., the town that hosts Foxwoods:
Mayor Wesley Johnson: "I've become very cynical about this operation ...There has been no economic development spin-off from the casino."
Mayor Susan Mendenhall: "You have no idea how much [the casino] has cost our town ... millions, and it is on the backs of taxpayers."
I'm not saying I have all the answers -- or any of them. I'm just saying that building a casino right here in East Boston could have sweeping consequences, and before the legislature passes a final bill and the governor signs it into law there should be a comprehensive, independent study of the issue.
For our elected officials to lurch forward without doing so is nothing less than dereliction of duty.