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.
Make no mistake, these facilities are not merely looking to attract current gamblers away from Connecticut. They are looking for a whole new group of slot players — your neighbors — who start out visiting once a month, and end up visiting several nights a week because they are so close to home.
Whatever deal is on the table today will change tomorrow. Casinos all over the Northeast are already heavily in debt. When the absurd market saturation begins in Massachusetts, estimated profits will head down hill and so will the promised revenue and jobs.
If children’s jewelry and toys arrive from overseas with lead content, our government bans them because of potential harm to our children. We have dozens of agencies and private organizations designed to protect consumers from harmful products.
Now, we have a product which everyone agrees will harm thousands of our neighbors, destroy families, and cause significant more theft, embezzlement and DUIs. This product is called the modern slot machine, designed with algorithms to give potential addicts the illusion of winning. Instead of controlling it, state and local governments have partnered with it and promoted it in their own delusion of “free money.” What other industry offers mitigation money as an up-front admission that it will cause problems in the community?
Every resident of Tewksbury and this region has a stake in this issue. Many communities have “just said no” because they learned quickly that the costs far outweigh the benefits. One such community, Foxboro, did considerable research and made a film titled “Preserving the Character of Foxboro.” It is worth 20 minutes of your time to Google this video and watch it on YouTube. My hope is that Tewksbury, like Foxboro and so many other communities, will look beyond the hype and smell this big rat for what it is.
Sue Tucker, a former Democratic state senator, writes from Andover.