Both Maine and Rhode Island in recent years have rejected proposals that would have brought casino gambling to those states. Maine probably did the right thing, since the deal on the table disproportionately favored casino interests. But the case was less clear-cut in Rhode Island, where an opportunity to leverage an already robust tourism business may well have been lost. While the factors at play in Rhode Island and Maine were not at all similar, there was a common denominator: despite robust state lotteries, the political leadership chose to pretend they had a moral aversion to gambling. In fact, they were probably more concerned about dealing with special interests they’ve yet to deal with on a regular basis, as opposed to those special interests with which they usually do business.
Whether Maine or Rhode Island did the right thing is not a consideration here in Massachusetts, where it seems certain that at least one Native American tribe will soon usher in a new age of casino gambling. What is of concern, however, is whether Massachusetts leaders will act responsibly and — to the extent to which they can, given the latitude of Native American prerogatives — hammer out as coherent an economic-development plan for gambling as is possible. We’ve got to hand it to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for pitching Suffolk Downs as a possible casino site if Middleborough should fizzle. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill so far has shown initiative in this area, as well. And Governor Deval Patrick has dropped hints that he might not be averse to wheeling and dealing.
Raising taxes in Massachusetts appears to be politically impossible. Yet the desire and the need for more revenue grows. With the state lottery projecting a less robust future for itself, political leaders would be irresponsible not to leverage casino gambling in the public interest. In the first six months of this year, gambling lobbyists have spent approximately $500,000 to influence the Massachusetts government. That is almost as much as they spent in the state during all of this past year. Clearly something is up. Massachusetts should not pass on opportunities that Rhode Island and Maine were too timid or too unimaginative to seize.
Conley’s error, Davis’s challenge
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley was out of line when he tried to make Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s decision to name a new head of the homicide division into a public stink.
Almost two years ago, Phoenix writer David S. Bernstein crunched the numbers and determined that, for a city of its size, Boston had the worst homicide squad in the nation. Since then, things haven’t much improved. You would have to be living under a rock to not recognize the magnitude of the problems Boston faces.
To be fair, Conley was not totally off-base. Under Massachusetts law, the homicide squad serves two masters: the police department, within which it works, and the DA. Even more than the mayor or the police chief, it is Conley’s office that has ultimate responsibility for murder investigations.
As such, he and his lead homicide prosecutor, David Meier, have been trying to force real reforms — including better witness-identification procedures, increased use of the grand jury to develop investigations, and more careful and thorough collection of evidence — through a police department that is too often too resistant to change.