There I was, at Thursday's meeting in Halifax, of the Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts, expecting we'd all just talk about Carcieri, have a good laugh and adjourn for the rest of eternity.
And yet, it was not to be. To my surprise, though virtually all members of the Task Force were up to date on Carcieri and it's ramifications (unlike Middleboro), they were all still making plans to keep going, to continue with their research, to meet with legislators, and to accumulate data on potential impacts.
Seems that, in light of all the other crazy things we've been subjected to in the last two years, they're not convinced some commercial enterprise couldn't plant a casino in that location.
My first thought was, naahh... that spot is too environmentally sensitive. The State will never let it happen.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized they're right. We're actually probably in more danger of a casino if slots are approved in Massachusetts than we ever were with a Tribe.
Think about it. The Tribe's application was always horribly flawed. But a 2002 Harvard Study pinpointed the area Middleboro as the primo spot for a destination resort casino.
"But wait", you say, "If there's going to be a casino, it'll probably just be a casino in New Bedford."
True. That's also my guess - for casino #1.
But you don't really think there'll be just 1, 2 or even 3 casinos, do you?
I attended a presentation at Plainridge race track earlier this year in which the owner was very clear that, once he got the OK to install slots, it was only a short matter of time before he built a nice big hotel and casino up around it.
With a gleam in his eye, and a dream in his heart, he shared his vision via photos of other posh casino/hotel complexes.
So let's see, who are the front runners? I'm going to say New Bedford, East Boston (Suffolk Downs), and Palmer, followed by Raynham, Revere, Plainville and... Middleboro!
Ok, now you're saying, "we'll never have that many casinos in Massachusetts."
Listen, if Massachusetts legalizes slots, there will be a casino every time we need the money, which is pretty much every time we turn around.
I've met people all over this country fighting predatory gambling and let me tell you, once you open the floodgates to expanded gambling, grab a life vest.
I've used this map before to demonstrate population density in our country. See how dense it is in our neck of the woods? (Click the map for a better look.)
The travesty of Federally assisted Indian "Gaming" opened the door to unprecedented gambling expansion in our country - mostly in remote areas at first.
Believing they had no recourse but to sign Indian "gaming" compacts with federally recognized sovereign tribes on reservations within their boundries, States soon realized they could also negotiate for a percentage of tribal casino revenue, most notably slot revenue, if they legalized gambling.
And so, in turn, these States quickly began to authorize and license commercial casinos - to be located in more densely populated, more lucrative areas.
Indian 'gaming' quickly learned to compete with commercial 'gaming' for customers via a purposely manipulated loophole known as "off-reservation gaming", which in turn gave birth to a loathsome phenomenon known as "reservation shopping", along with similar abuses.
Now empowered with a growing acceptance of 'gaming' - both tribal and commercial, wealthy casino investors with insatiable appetites for new opportunities began to drool over those dark blue areas on population density maps.
They waved tantalizing financial possibilities - such as licensing fees and revenue sharing - like big juicy carrots in front of state legislators who were hard pressed to cut costs or reign in spending. They encouraged a sense of 'inevitability', low-balled costs and over-emphasized potential benefits.
Every State-wide gambling push became a months-long infomercial. Both legislators and the public alike were expected to be outraged over revenue escaping needlessly into smarter, wiser gambling States, while understanding that they needed to act now if they wanted to re-capture it.
(They tried not to let you read the small print where you'd notice that these gambling States also have higher taxes...)
And right now, with our own legislative density running at an all time high, combined with with a recession, Patrick's (it's entertainment!) cluelessness, Deleo's committment to saving the tracks, Cahill's under-funded ambition and now Murray's suspiciously enthusiastic endorsement of casinos even as neighboring Twin Rivers strangles on it's own debt (Kaching!), the drool is positively puddling on the floor.
And let's not forget, where slots go, so does corruption. We've already seen it. It is an expectable and predictable impact of gambling. The more slot machines we allow into this State, the more casino investors will run it.
Do you really think billionaire casino investors will care about aquifers and swamps? Salamanders and alewives? Rules and regulations?
Even a glass-half-full optimist like me isn't that naive.
All they'll care about is maximizing profits while we'll just be another casino hot-spot on the map in a State which will quickly learn to lean on their shoulders every time they need an influx of revenue.
You wash my back...
I think most of us have a sense about this. We know how our State operates. While Connecticut can be one of those "social gamblers" who can get away with two casinos - Massachusetts is like the guy who knows that if he goes to the casino even once, he's going to come out broke.
Remember, there are 23 casinos and counting in Michigan. California has 45, many which compete by allowing 18 year olds to gamble. Pennsylvania passes gambling laws in the middle of the night, and wants to put a casino next door to the Liberty Bell.
So, you know what? I think the Regional Task Force is right about staying on course. And I think that everyone who doesn't want to be steamrolled by corruption and the casino industry should be doing everything in their power to stop expanded gambling in our state.
A good start would be to get out your powerful pens and write to your legislators. Today.
And furthermore, and this is very important, send a copy of that letter to the:
Massachusetts Democratic Party
56 Roland Street
Boston , MA 02129
Telephone number: (617) 776-2676
Fax number: (617) 776-2579
And/or submit an e-mail here.
This is the party that is running the show right now.
But small, focused grassroots efforts have extricated our State from the jaws of gambling predators in the past. Thankfully, you have 2 years experience learning every casino or slot impact under the sun.
Don't assume anything's a 'done deal' or that all our legislators are anxious to support expanded gambling, that they're busy shoving bribe money under their shirts, or that they know or read everything. And please, understand that some really do care about doing the right thing and making the right decision.
Share your knowledge. Show your outrage. End the casino arms race.
Because face it - we've been pegged.