Patrick’s winning hand

By EDITORIAL  |  September 19, 2007

Massachusetts has had state-sponsored gambling in the form of the lottery for 36 years. Despite any alleged stigma, Harvard and MIT have not left for greener pastures, the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood are thriving, the Institute of Contemporary Arts has built new headquarters to international applause, and the Museum of Fine Arts is moving vigorously ahead with its planned expansion. This, of course, is just an exaggerated way of saying that those who worry about what casinos will do to the fabric of Massachusetts’s culture are, well, just exaggerating fears.

What is not exaggerated is the possibility of recapturing the $800 million to $1 billion that researchers estimate Bay State residents spend each year gambling in Rhode Island and Connecticut. That Patrick’s casino plan would recycle the windfall into the local economy should be the foundation on which the merits of the plan are debated.

Aside from a failure of political imagination to grasp the opportunity that Patrick’s plan presents, another hazard is on the horizon: racetrack owners. For reasons of understandable self-preservation, local tracks will try to muscle in and snag a piece of the gambling action. The legislature would be wise to resist this.

Properly regulated casinos offer a practical solution to a practical set of political problems. It would be imprudent to dilute the potential impact of Patrick’s plan by making side bets on slots in tracks that are probably no longer economically viable.

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