SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

January 23, 2014

Watson: Casinos erode local economies and tax state services

(Continued)

Curtatone, who has been in office for 10 years and who has studied the casino issue extensively, says that — especially in urban areas — gambling facilities siphon business and, thus, jobs from other enterprises. Mostly, casinos do not stimulate other businesses. Furthermore, the conditions and pay of the vast majority of the jobs inside casino complexes are not high.

The city of Somerville, which could easily have competed for a casino, has instead chosen to build a real economy, one based on the many interlocking, mutually reinforcing components of healthy and sustainable growth. Curtatone has worked hard to help build a community that combines the right combination of mixed uses — residential, retail, business, industry and educational. In addition, the city and the private sector have been smart in organizing those complementary uses around their very imageful public squares and supporting them with mass transit. And when the Green Line is extended as planned to Somerville and Medford, that will further bulwark the area’s economy.

Curtatone’s point is that there is no shortcut to building a healthy, meaningful, sustainable economy. It takes explicit goals, planning, targeted investment, steadiness and time. By contrast, a casino’s allure rests mostly on the large, initial payments to the host community. But that upfront jackpot is followed soon enough (maybe five to 10 years) by the costly by-products of casinos.

If casinos were truly the win-win proposition for us that their proponents argue, we would see that result clearly in the evidence. But with the exception of gambling in Nevada, which for a variety of reasons is a special case, casinos and slots parlors do not enhance the vitality of the local or state economy around them.

Perhaps the definitive example of this can be seen in Atlantic City. The introduction of casinos there killed small, local businesses and caused the flight of the middle class from surrounding residential neighborhoods. Drive through the casino precinct now and you’ll see plenty of bail bondsmen storefront offices.

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