In a job-starved economy, casinos are still a good bet

The issue provoked a rare show of common purpose on Beacon Hill
By EDITORIAL  |  August 31, 2011

editorial casinos

As Beacon Hill considers — yet again — an expanded gaming proposal, some say that the opportunity has passed. We disagree, and continue to support a carefully crafted plan for bringing resort casinos to Massachusetts.

Governor Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray all deserve credit for coming up with just that.

No doubt, the state could have reaped more benefits by acting sooner — when the economy was still strong, and Massachusetts was further ahead of its neighbors' plans. Casinos in the commonwealth may have little time before those in New York and other northeast states open to compete for finite dollars.

But the likely proliferation of nearby casinos only means that Massachusetts, by not acting, will lose more and more cash — not only to out-of-state slot machines and blackjack tables, but performing-arts theaters and restaurants as well.

To those predicting that casinos are in for lean years ahead, we point to the long line of wealthy developers eager to invest fortunes for the licenses.

Three licenses for full-scale resort casinos will be auctioned off with bids starting at $85 million, plus a $500-million capital-investment requirement. The Boston Globe reports that perhaps a dozen groups — that are known of — are ready to ante that kind of stake. An additional slots-only license, to be auctioned for at least $25 million with a $125 million investment, is also said to have generated considerable interest.

Matched against difficult cuts made in the state budget, the good that can come from just the licensing fees is clear. And while nobody suggests that the annual revenue stream is a panacea, it will allow towns to keep police and teachers on the job, allow agencies to provide services to more elderly and homeless, and help keep our roads and bridges under repair.

But the best argument for casinos is more important now than ever: jobs. Not only the short-term construction jobs, but the many thousands of service-industry positions at the casinos and accompanying businesses.

Those who argue that these are bottom-of-the-barrel positions that aren't good enough for Massachusetts should talk to some of the thousands who work, directly or indirectly, for the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Those are good jobs, far better and more upwardly mobile than the state's vanishing manufacturing jobs, and highly desirable even in good times. Today, those jobs are desperately needed.

There are ills that come with the casino business, to be sure. But those are often over-hyped, and can be minimized with smart, careful planning.

The current legislation includes much of the best of such thinking, accumulated over the past several years of Beacon Hill debate on the topic. The bill not only provides funding for gambling-addiction treatment, but also creates a State Police unit dedicated to the problems associated with casinos. Additional funds will also be channeled toward police, housing, and other services in the towns where casinos are sited. A five-member board will be charged with regulation and oversight.

Kudos go to Patrick, who convinced DeLeo to back down from his demand for slots licenses to be handed to the state's two dog-track owners; one slot parlor, open to competitive bid, will minimize the particularly sleazy nature of such establishments.

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