EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 9, 2011

Massachusetts taxpayers get fleeced in the gambling bill

Sue Tucker

There are so many cynical, hilarious provisions in the new gambling legislation that it is difficult to select which one hits the jackpot for pure legislative chicanery. Massachusetts residents get fleeced at every turn, even if they never set foot in a casino.

At the top of the list is the bailout for the dying horse-racing industry. More casino dough is pegged for horse-racing subsidies than for mitigating the enormous costs local governments will incur in hosting these facilities.

Another fleece-the-voter provision is the re-definition of a "community" for purposes of holding a local referendum to approve or disapprove casinos. What if the good people of Boston decide a slot parlor is a bad bet, especially with T access for tens of thousands of college students? The solution to this pesky problem is buried in the legislation: simply re-define the community as "the ward in which the facility will be located" — read, East Boston. Everyone else in Boston, or in any city larger than 125,000 residents is cut out of the vote. Of course that includes Springfield and Worcester.

My Republican and small-government friends must take special note of the provision designating the new gambling inspectors, auditors, and overseers as "essential state employees." No snow days for the essential casino bureaucrats, but who pays for their health insurance and pensions? The fleece keeps growing.

Anyone who understands the very complicated Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the process for obtaining tribal land in trust, will have great fun reading the section on Indian gaming. The taxpayers are immediately required to fork over $5 million to help the governor negotiate a compact with the Wampanoag Tribe before July, 2012. If this bill takes effect in October, nine months are left to accomplish what will take years, even without long and costly litigation which is almost guaranteed in this bill. In nine months, it is unlikely the state will even have a Gambling Commission hired, let alone the rules and regulations written and approved.

One of my personal favorites is the provision for a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of casino gambling, and whether slot machines are addictive. Many of us have been advocating a real cost-benefit analysis for years. Except this study takes place after the slots are already installed, and it is paid for by casino revenues. Reminiscent, perhaps, of the studies funded by tobacco companies which proved that cigarettes are harmless.

Both the revenue projections and the job estimates are old, and they are bogus in today's economy. When New Hampshire puts two casinos on the Massachusetts border, these projections become more absurd. With so many casinos in bankruptcy, investors are skeptical, which leads to the final insult in this legislation: an investment requirement of only $125 million dollars. Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun cost well over $1 billion.

If you envision a tasteful, beautiful facility teeming with resort employees, you have been fleeced yet again.

Sue Tucker, of Andover, is a former state senator.