Friday, July 2, 2010

Leaping without looking

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.


Kazak said...

The jobs argument is such crap. Jobs in the trades are always going to be rising and falling with the economy. What happens once this thing is built? You're out of a job again, unless we jump into another real estate bubble. The trade unions need to stop thinking like economists (growth growth growth) and start thinking more sustainably (and no, I don't think most traditional economists think sustainably in the least).

As far as the other jobs in the casino there really needs to be a thorough discussion of the numbers people are using. What you've posted here, Jimbo, contrasts greatly with what Sen Petrucelli was saying after the forum -- great benefits, salary to raise your children on, union jobs. What is the reality? I think we can assume that unless the developer is legally bound to hire union workers or whatever the claim is on the front end, we can't really expect to see it on the back end.

As far as the appeal to the heartstrings of Eastie residents ("Suffolk Downs has been here for 75 years"), I'd like to know if they are really bound to keeping horse racing.

The people coming in are not the people form 75 years ago. They will be directed by economic realities -- one of which is that horse racing is a dying entertainment medium -- and an expensive one to boot. It's a whole lot more cost effective to have slots which just require a waitress to hand out drinks and a schmo to empty out the tokens at the end of the night. In fact if they just hook everything up to your credit card or debit card they can even get rid of the schmo.

I really see no benefit to East Boston whatsoever.

t said...

I want to build a casino where traffic can flow 24 hours a day, ithin driving distance of people with disposable income, and the neighborhood historically demonstrates submission to authority rather than complaining and political revolt.

Where should I look?

Newton? Mansfield? Maybe Fitchburg? Where does such a community exist? How about one that already tolerates noise and traffic from Logan airport, is central to every community in Eastern Mass, and will take this lying down (submit baby).

Eastie is a no-brainer for the location. Just accept it - unless your willing to vote against the incumbents.

Neighbor said...

Hi Folks,

We are pleased to announce that Dan Rea's Nightside on WBZ Radio (1030 AM) will be the venue for the second public forum on casinos organized by Neighbors of Suffolk Downs on Thursday night July 15th at 9:00 PM. Expanded gambling authority, Professor Robert Goodman, author of "The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion" will debate Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll, a staunch advocate of the pending casino legislation.

The rhetoric has been ratcheted up on both sides as a conference committee hammers out the differences between two versions of legislation that will legalize casinos in Massachusetts. Join the Neighbors of Suffolk Downs in the discussion on this hot topic as the legislative session winds down.

John Ribeiro