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July 31, 2013

Column: Casinos and slot barns bring degradation, not jobs

During my 20 years in the Massachusetts House and Senate, I listened to hundreds of hours of testimony on casinos in public hearings. I met with dozens of slot experts, both pro and con, from all over America, and I read numerous books about the gambling industry including “High Stakes: the Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction” by Sam Skolnik and MIT Professor Dr. Natasha Schull’s new book, “Addiction by Design.”

I have no built-in moral bias against gambling per se. I do, however, have a built-in bias against rip-offs, and today’s gambling industry is one of the biggest rip-offs in American history. Slots are designed to make a few wealthy men even wealthier by emptying the pockets of lower income, elderly and addicted citizens.

Today, our own wonderful corner of world, the Merrimack Valley, has been thrust into this debate because of Penn National’s slot barn proposal in Tewksbury. Penn will spend millions to convince you that this is a good idea for Tewksbury and the region. I have heard it all before, and I assure you that it is not economic development. Rather it is economic and social degradation.

Casinos, and especially slot barns, degrade the local and regional economy. They do not enhance it. When local people pour their dollars down the slots they are not supporting existing or new businesses that depend on discretionary income. For Tewksbury to get its magic money, local citizens must gamble and lose hundreds of millions of dollars. Aside from the very short-term construction jobs, the actual number of jobs is always over estimated, and the wages are pathetic.

Gambling companies claim to help problem gamblers. To the contrary, they do everything possible to keep them gambling as long and as fast as possible. The industry has fought every proposal across America to minimize addiction, whether limits on ATM withdrawals or limits on free booze. Slot barns do not make money from the casual gambler who cuts his or her losses at $50. Their profits come from those who can’t stop. This is their business model, not subject to change.

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