Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No One Expects the Casino Opposition!

One of my treasured readers recently sent me a copy of an opinion piece from Banker and Tradesman magazine entitled "And They’re Off! Developers Looking To Cash In On Bay State Gambling Gamble", by none other than former Herald reporter Scott Van Voorhis.

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.

Ratings were cut further into junk territory on the Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation, which runs Foxwoods Resort Casino, and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.
Moving on to the next tea leaf, I'll admit to being taken aback at being labeled a "anti-gambling moralist".

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.
I'm not the only one who sees it. I've been fighting this thing for two years now, and it's always the same.

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.

But then...

...no one expects the casino opposition!

14 comments:

Middleboro Review said...

Gladys,

Great job!

The little photo doctoring of Van Voorhis echoes my sentiments!

The poor little man destroyed whatever credibility he might have had with that hack job, but he's been an uninformed Cheerleader right along!

One of the rules that we both omitted was "Discredit the opposition"!

By suggesting the opposition is "trendy" or "moralists," Van Voorhis must have believed those labels to be adequate dismissals. He'll have to do better next time!

Anonymous said...

Boy, did that guy get it wrong!

As always, Gladys, I'm glad you called him out on it.

You were in the same room I was 2 years ago. How time flies!

Carl said...

Gladys, excellent synopsis. Those who sway like a reed in the wind are usually the first to mock those who clearly have their roots planted deep. It is obviously done to make themselves feel better because of their lack of conviction. Milk toast Kool-Aid drinkers, all of them.

Excellent new header too!

Anonymous said...

It looks like lenders have more sense than Beacon Hill when it comes to risk.

Trump filed for bankruptcy again and looks like Twin Rivers is down the tubes.

Who is more addicted to gambling? The states or gamblers?

Anonymous said...

Good job explaining the inexplicable.

The enirety of the article is so wacky maybe that's why he couldn't go mainstream.

Anonymous said...

This was strange praise to be timed right before the public implosion of Twin river.Business leaders and lenders aren't stupid enough to believe what vorhiss writes.Casino builders arent stupid enough to make big comitments until the future looks better.

Anonymous said...

You're seeing a flurry of articles because slot supporters are desparate.They know public opinion isnt what they pretend.The money isnt there.No one watches races and the tracks are dead.Lets bail out the wealthy investers with blood money from the poor.

Anonymous said...

Beacon Hill looks like a macrocosm of the Mboro clowns.
All information stops at the borders and their wisdom doesn't need outside input.
If we werent paying for the Massive Big Dig Hole, would we be here? How about those genarous pensions? Would the union membership support this if they knew their are no jobs?

kerry said...

Awhile ago someone sugested legalizing brothels. Where does it end?

Anonymous said...

Kerry made a good point about states' addiction to additional revenue.

Exactly where does it end?

In a discussion forum, when slot machines and gambling were discussed, a healthcare professional proposed that all drugs should be legalized and taxed to pay for drug rehab.

How does that differ from what is proposed in the Commonwealth?

Shall we legalize all forms of gambling to pay for gambling addiction, thereby increasing the numbers of those requiring treatment?

Anonymous said...

You're talking about so many other issues and I'm dreding slots in Raynham.I can't see why it makes sense to keep Carney afloat,never mind the increased trafic,adiction and the other stuff.What can I do about it?

Anonymous said...

Anti Casino Moralist, nothing to be ashamed of.
I have seen two divorces in my family caused from gambling, but the worst part was not the acutal divorce, it was all that happended to these familes leading up to the divorce, (two yrs. for one, 4yrs. for the other). Stealing money from other family members, kids not being able to enjoy even the simple things in life due to first, extra money, then after short time, any and sometimes all the money going to CT casinos.

However not so fast on my new title, I would kill my brother in-law and cousin if I could have legally gotten away with it before they put their wife and kids through hell. Divorce was a blessing, but to late, damage was done.

Anti-casino moralist? I like it, and if that is my (new) title, I'm proud to wear it along w/my pro family one.

Added bonus for brother in-law, he is now an alcholic along w/gambling addiction.

YES, MY FAMILY HATES GAMBLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BRING ON THE BUTTONS!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

We had a friend I'll call "Ernie" who worked with my husband and had worked for the same company for + 50 years.

The company got rid of their company pension and allowed employees to rollover the money into their 401K or pay the penalty and take the money.

"Ernie" took the money and went to Foxwoods every night after work to make his fortune. It took "Ernie" about a year to piss through the money.

"Ernie" would have had enough to buy a home and pay cash -- he lived with his son and daughter-in-law at the time.

"Ernie" then bought a house in Florida with a mortgage to be close to the casinos there.

Anonymous said...

Articles such as this makes matters even worse for surrounding states that suddenly feel forced to expand predatory gambling to compete. Where does it end?

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