, Salem, MA


January 15, 2014

Watson: Casinos are a bad deal for taxpayers

For the gambling industry, two upcoming events loom portentously. On Feb. 25, the citizens of Revere will vote on Mohegan Sun’s proposal to build a casino at Suffolk Downs. If they approve the project, it will join the competition for the eastern Massachusetts casino license.

The second event — to occur sometime in March — will be a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court regarding the legality of a proposed ballot question that would allow all of the citizens of the state to vote in November this year for or against repeal of the law that permits casinos.

In November 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation — written and approved by the House and Senate — that authorized the construction of one slots parlor and three casinos in designated regions across the state. If the ballot question is judged to be acceptable, it will represent the first time that voters statewide can effectively weigh in on the casino legislation.

The casino law puts a lot of money on the table, and gambling industry developers have been assiduously assembling land, plans and local approvals. So far, in addition to Revere, casinos are proposed for Everett, Springfield and New Bedford. Slots parlors are proposed for Leominster, Plainville and Raynham.

The state gambling commission, specially created in 2012 to regulate the selection and operation of those facilities, will in May select two winning casino proposals and award licenses to them. The third will be awarded some time after that. Only one slots location will be chosen.

It is my hope that the SJC will permit the repeal initiative and that voters will oppose the casino law. For the economics of casinos do not in the end favor the state. To the contrary, after some five, six, or seven years of operation — and forever after that — casinos impose costs on the state that become larger than the revenues they contribute.

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