The article is for subscribers only, so I can't link to it, and I don't think it would be right to re-print it in it's entirety here, but, in a nutshell, the piece is one long homage to expanded gambling - therefore heavy on inevitability, long on benefits, and short on costs.
And to listen to Van Voorhis, it would seem that casino investors are currently huddled around the Bay State looking toward any expansion of gambling with all the anticipation of a French mob waiting for the next head to meet la guillotine.
All this despite the recession, which Van Voorhis insists is only a flesh wound for the predatory gambling industry - preferring to ignore the looming potential for a casino bailout in Rhode Island in favor of waxing hopeful over
"a few states, like Pennsylvania, actually reporting rising revenue."Van Voorhis, like many gambling visionaries, is an oracle. Reading the entrails of circling casino magnates and coal miners queued up at Keystone slot parlors, he portends that a future in gambling,
"could be just the right bet for our state’s beleaguered economy and battered state budget, with the potential for thousands of construction and permanent jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue for cash-starved state coffers."And raising this steely argument before the gods, Van Voorhis divines that those oppopsed to expanded gambling have become victims on the alter of their own religion, because it
"...also shatters the latest, trendy argument rolled out by anti-gambling moralists in their zeal to shut down the casino industry. Seizing upon the economic downturn that has hit the sector along with everyone else, gambling foes have tried to craft an argument that the rocky times are actually a sign that those poor, victimized casino customers have finally seen the light."Hey listen, I take Van Voorhis's prophecies as seriously as I do any other oracle's - which is to say not at all - but let's take these tea leaves one by one.
First of all, "trendy argument"? Could this argument seem ... trendy... oh because of, say, the current "trend" where we observe casino credit drying up, construction projects coming to a halt, revenues leveling down, and pink slips being tendered - thanks to a recession driven by other do-no-wrong gambling-based industries of the last decade such as investment banking and risky mortage lending.
Trust me, "gambling foes" have no need to "craft" any argument along these lines. The argument isn't floating amorphously in some dark corner - it's standing in the middle of the room, solid, obvious and exposed, for anyone to extend their arm, snap a cell phone picture and send it to everyone in their address book.
But heck, don't take my word for it. Three days before Van Voorhis penned his column, Moody's downgraded the ratings on those other neighboring casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
Moody's Investors Service cut its credit ratings on the owners of two Connecticut casinos, saying weak gambling trends in that area will make it difficult for the tribes to reduce their debt in the near to medium term.Moving on to the next tea leaf, I'll admit to being taken aback at being labeled a "anti-gambling moralist".
Ratings were cut further into junk territory on the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation, which runs Foxwoods Resort Casino, and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.
I've certainly never considered myself a "moralist". I mean, would a "moralist" do this to a picture of Mr. Van Voorhis? You tell me.
But would someone be considered a "moralist" if they opposed a plan to introduce a device that had been mechanically engineered to addict a certain percentage of it's users for the purpose of raising revenue in order to balance a State's budget? Or would they just understand right from wrong?
While Mr. Van Voorhis appears inclined to label opponents of predatory gambling as "moralists" - perhaps in an effort to undermine our motives as far too noble for the average overburdened taxpayer - the truth is, there are numerous reasons we oppose gambling.
And yes, some of them are about doing the right thing.
Many, but probably not most, oppose expanded gambling for religious reasons. Others do so out of concern for increased crime and social issues. Some folks can just do the math while more than a few simply don't buy into the marketing hype or promises of inevitability. Opposition from a certain percentage stems from painful personal experience. There are those who follow their social conscience while others just think we can do better. And naturally there are those who oppose it because they understand the industry all too well.
For most of us though, it's a combination of things.
A lot of it for me stems from my revulsion at how strongly these slot purveyors push this economic hallucinogen of fiscal salvation down our throats - and the people who buy it so easily. It's how weak I know our voices will become if we let these vampires cross the threshold. It's a boy who'll never know his dad so that the State of Rhode Island could raise revenue, bail out a casino and still have higher taxes.
But I for one believe that most people, if they really knew the facts about expanded gambling, would oppose it. (At least those not more concerned with padding political war chests.)
That's because you don't have to be a moralist to see that it's wrong. You just have to be not stupid.
Because let's face it - you can easily look at other States and see that slots and casinos create short term benefits that come along with unpleasant permanent costs - costs economical, cultural, and human.
You can easily review our State's august spending history and envision a massive gambling commission with hundreds of State employees collecting thousands of years worth of future pensions.
Your mind's eye can conceive of all that promised manna from heaven quickly absorbed into future budgets while additional slot parlors, casinos, addiction, crime and corruption scramble to keep up.
In his column, Mr. Van Voorhis notes that Harrah's Entertainment
"Led by former Harvard University business professor Gary Loveman"has been busy courting our elected officials - while neglecting to mention how, at last year's Statehouse hearings, Rep. Conroy chewed Harrah's bliss-filled arguments into little tiny pieces of chum that he then tossed into the drink as a warning to the other predators.
Van Voorhis implies that gambling in Pennsylvania has been successful - while neglecting to bring up the fact that their "gaming" commission is riddled with corruption, has passed laws in the middle of the night and has had opposition members arrested.
Is that what we really want? Does even Mr. Van Voorhis want that? And could that most basic of understandings be the reason why our State has always eventually rejected expanded gambling?
When you average them out, should we expect the most or the least, from our officials? Or the public?
At least we know what to expect from casino proponents - it could be a bullet list.
- Create a sense of inevitability.
- Wave inordinately large amounts of money in front of our most vulnerable citizens - State legislators.
- Inflate the numbers.
- Employ union "influence".
- Wheel out Clyde Barrows at least once a month to insist our State pockets are being picked by Connecticut casinos.
- Blow off all casino opposition as bible thumping bleeding hearts without a clue as to how the big boys balance budgets. Employ copious eye rolling.
- Avoid mentioning any associated costs. Deny them if necessary.
- If this is not possible, and with a serious face, insist mitigation will contain any conceivable costs.
- If discussing costs does become necessary, try to make such cost sound like a benefit (e.g. the beneficial stimulation effect of slot machine noise on otherwise shut-in seniors.)
- Remember - it's not gambling, it's 'gaming' - but more importantly, it's always just "entertainment."
- If these steps fail, return to step 1.
- Rinse. Repeat.
The true variables in the equation, it would seem, are the economy, the legislative landscape and public opinion. But there's another that everyone seems to count out or forget - that dark horse known as grassroots resistance.
Two long years ago, I was just the woman in the room that nobody knew. An unlikely activist. I was quiet, but attentive, sitting there in the back, scribbling into my notebook. No one thought very much about me or expected anything from me.
...no one expects the casino opposition!