Friday, March 12, 2010

Marchellaneous

So much in the news, so little time to blog.

Bob DeLeo's recent announcement that he'll cram through file legislation to expand gambling in Massachusetts to include 2 resort casinos (locations unknown) and slots at all 4 of the State's racetracks has grabbed headlines this month. But, in the rest of the vast expanded-gambling universe, lots of other news is being made.

For instance, in Rhode Island, lawmakers are attempting to divine the burnt entrails of DeLeo's pending legislation in hopes of insulating their own economy from
the long-term from the negative economic impacts that will result from potential casinos in Massachusetts and continued gaming resort expansion in Connecticut
Likewise, you can file this one under "gambling arms race" and " deja vu all over again":
Will this be the year the New Hampshire House of Representatives ends its long-running opposition to expanded gambling? It still isn’t likely, but there were some encouraging signs besides the several hundred supporters who packed historic Representatives Hall on Thursday for the public hearing on the mega-slots and casino-style games bill of Manchester Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro.
Meanwhile, the great state o' Maine continues to debate the obvious:
The release of data showing that more than 1,200 Mainers called a national hot line for problem gamblers last year has lawmakers renewing debate over the funding level for state help programs.

...calls to the national phone line have grown consistently since the Hollywood Slots facility in Bangor started to operate in 2005, with calls jumping from 118 in 2004 to 1,008 in 2007.

“And last year, it was up to 1,263 calls,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone can say there is not a gambling problem here; of course there is a problem.”

Over in the Keystone State, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is opposing Parx Casino's bid to add 80 live and electronic table games until the casino gives some much needed TLC to the adjoining Philadelphia Park Racetrack.
Parx is the most profitable and successful casino in Pennsylvania, generating nearly 20 percent of all slots revenue in the state, executives testified.

If that’s true, Ballezzi countered, Parx should be able to maintain the 36 barns and 12 dormitories in the backstretch of its adjoining Philadelphia Park Racetrack.

Ballezzi presented the Pennsylvania Casino Control Board with copies of letters to casino management along with a list of more than 280 maintenance requests submitted last year. Some buildings look like their about to collapse...
And, if you were wondering what makes a casino "the most profitable and successful casino in Pennsylvania," well, it's not the "Whales" - it's the "local low rollers" - apparently the same type financially-strapped little guy that Bob DeLeo's gambling initiative is supposed to help.
"We underestimated significantly how many trips our customers were going to make," Jonas said at last month's Pennsylvania Gaming Congress in Valley Forge.

"When I was in Atlantic City, to have 12 to 15 trips out of customers, they were VIPs," Jonas said. At Parx, "it's not uncommon for us to have 150 to 200 trips."
Trips? Huh? Is that an industry term? Like 'gaming' instead of 'gambling'? Like 'glassware' instead of 'bong'?
Moderator Michael Pollock, a well-regarded casino analyst, paused to digest the statistic.

"You said 150 to 200 times a year," he repeated. "That's three to four times a week, essentially."

"Yes," Jonas confirmed, most of his players fit that profile. In fact, because Parx players tend to live within 20 miles of Street Road, many go even more frequently.

"We have customers," Jonas boasted, "who give us $25, $30 five times a week."
Which causes columnist Monica Yant Kinney to reflect that,
Besides work and the gym, there's no place I go three to five times a week. And, beyond Target and Wegmans, nowhere I drop as much cash.

Jonas should be proud of Parx's haul. But if frequency can portend problem gambling, should he - and we - worry about thousands of people who've made playing a way of daily life? It didn't take much to lure them, beyond proximity, free valet parking, and $50 comps. "If you live 15 minutes away, you really don't need a room," Jonas told the casino group. His customers "come in, grab a hot dog or maybe a chicken sandwich," gamble three hours, "then go home and sleep in their own bed."
But wait... Six-hundred or so miles away from Parx, over in my neck of the woods, owners of small local businesses seem to feel a slot parlor at the Raynham Dog Track is the path to prosperity.
Young Yeom, owner of the Hyasi Sushi & Japanese restaurant in South Easton, about two miles north of the track, also said slots would be a good idea, especially since dog racing didn’t do much for her upscale sushi restaurant.

"Their customers are not our customers," she said. "But I think slots (would help)." Jing Huang, owner of Yummy House, a Chinese restaurant a mile and a half south of Raynham Park, is impatient with the whole question, saying officials have been teasing people for years with the possibility of expanded gaming.

He thinks his business, which sits just north of I-495, would stand to benefit greatly from the extra traffic.
Most local business owners don't really understand the gambling industry's business model - it's not your typical industry - but United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, the state-wide expanded gambling opposition group does - and offers new page on it's web site outlining how both slot parlors and resort casinos cost their host and surrounding communities - including case studies of the Foxwoods experience in Connecticut and a racino in Bangor Maine.

Indeed, the owners of those eateries around Raynham might be interested to know that,
Bangor restaurants are not seeing any benefit from Hollywood Slots. In fact, a February 2009 article in the Bangor Daily News chronicled the fate of eight restaurants that had recently closed their doors or reduced their services.
Still, for those who imagine a city casino the cure for urban blight, consider the case of Detroit, MI, as recalled in a new memoir released last month, "Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen," by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Sandra Adell.
The area around MotorCity (casino), which occupies the former Wonder Bread factory, looks like a wasteland, with weed-infested fields, borded -up houses, and abandoned buildings everywhere. Each casino is conveiniently located near expressways so out-of-town gamblers - the tourists - can take their money and run and never see the blight the millions of dollars they leave behind have yet to eradicate.

But because some businesses are more equal than others, let's not forget that slot parlors and casinos often receive unfair competitive advantages over local business in the name of boosting state revenue.

Two years ago, Iowa legislators banned smoking in most public places. Iowa casinos are one of the few places where smokers can still light up indoors. Michael Galloway believes it’s helped keep business booming at Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino in Altoona. Galloway is the chairman of Prairie Meadows’ Board of Directors.

“I think our attendance has stayed pretty strong, even through the bad economy…so maybe part of it is attributable to the ability for people to smoke and game,” Galloway said. There are 1,900 slot machines inside the casino and most of them have an ash tray within reach.

Yeah, who needs public health inititives anyway?

File the next two under "irony".

Just two days after this appeared in the Taunton Gazette...
As expected, House Speaker Robert DeLeo earlier this week declared his intention to push for legalizing both slot machine parlors and resort casinos in Massachusetts, a move which could extend the life of Raynham’s ailing greyhound dog track.
... this appeared in the Pawtucket Times
The bill, which would be incorporated into Carcieri’s revised budget for the current year, would eliminate dog racing at the facility and forbid it in the future, cut in half the current number of mandated employees (suspended for the time being) at the venue from 1,300 to 650, and hike the amount the state agrees to pay in management and marketing fees to the facility.
A day later, State House News service served up even more irony.

Bob DeLeo, who represents a district with two ractracks, and oddly enough won't even consider establishing a commission to perform an independent cost-benefit analysis of how expanded gambling might effect the rest of Massachusetts, was speaking on WRKO-AM when host Charley Manning pointed out the close proximity of Plainridge to the Raynham-Taunton racetrack, and Suffolk Downs to Wonderland. But DeLeo is unconcerned because
he expected geographic separation to apply to the two casinos he will propose, which he called the “bigger product.” DeLeo said, “There’s probably going to be a limited number of slots.” DeLeo said “some” had asked for the Legislature to get involved in casino siting, but indicated he would like to leave siting issues, as well as applicant background checks, to a commission. “I don’t really think that that is our role,” he said, referring to the idea of the Legislature stipulating casino locations.
Apparently the role of the legislature is to sound a lot like gambling industry insiders.

But clearly, unlike initiating State-wide gambling legislation without the benefit of an independent analysis, applicant background checks are something to be left to professionals.
The FBI in Cleveland isn't waiting for a casino to be built -- temporary or otherwise -- to make a pre-emptive strike.

Agents recently met with Cavs owner and casino builder Dan Gilbert and his staff to prepare them for the ways crime can creep into the casino scene.

"This isn't our first rodeo," said Cleveland FBI agent-in-charge Frank Figliuzzi. "The FBI around the country and around the world has a history with casino operations."

He said Gilbert and his security staff came to FBI headquarters on Lakeside Avenue "and they received a briefing on historical issues that we have seen arise in cities that have taken on casino gaming."

Figliuzzi said those issues include organized crime, union and labor issues and various corruption schemes that have arisen in other cities.

He added, "We want to make the players aware of what these things look like when and if they see them occurring, and sensitizing them to some of the issues that could occur early on, based on what the FBI around the country has seen." Vigilance begins with the hiring process: "We've seen casinos compromised from within," Figliuzzi said.
Gosh, that's comforting. Goodness knows we could all use more crime. Like embezzlement.
Pokrywczynski told a federal judge that he stole because he needed cash to gamble at casinos. He is the latest of several local people convicted of large-scale embezzlements linked to legalized casino gambling.

"I've had at least 10 cases like this, and we're seeing more of them," said Thomas J. Eoannou, attorney for Pokrywczynski. "And a lot of them are people who have never broken the law before in their lives."
But what's a potential crime wave if it brings more decent jobs to the State, right? And we sure need decent jobs because according to the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index released this week by Crittenton Women’s Union, a "Boston-based nonprofit innovator in breaking the cycle of poverty",
a single parent with two children needs an annual income of $61,618 in Massachusetts just to get by.
Ooops.

Did they say $61,618? Because, according to the 2007 National Compensation Survey compiled by the US Dept of Labor's Division of Labor Statistics, the annual median earnings of gaming service employees is $13,179. And even Forbes puts 'gaming dealer' on it's list of lowest paying jobs in America.

Maybe, instead of spending so much of his (and our) energy promoting jobs that create crime and won't put food on the table, perhaps Bob DeLeo could find a way to create jobs with that cool-sounding "bigger product" - because the CWU also published a list of Hot Jobs list... which means occupations that
require two years or less of higher education that pay at the Mass. Index level and have more than a 100 vacancies statewide—down from 26 three years ago.
The Hot Jobs list, sadly, doesn't include those that would be created by expanded gambling - unless of course you count Correctional Officers and Jailers.

Oh and hey, in addition to criminals and low-paying jobs, you know what we could use more of?

That's right - less performing arts.
Arts advocates are convinced that gambling, whether in the form of "resort-style" casinos or race-track slot parlors, will cut directly into the money that households spend on the arts. Their fear is that a green light for gambling will be the death knell for performing-arts centers and organizations, both large and small, which are already suffering financially.

One reason for the fears of theater owners in particular is that state casinos might include performance arenas, which in their opinion will provide unfair competition — unfair because, for the casinos, entertainment is a loss leader to bring people onto the premises to gamble. Casinos can thus offer more money to performers, and charge less to patrons, than standalone performance centers can.
But not to fear, local theatre aficionados because,
Falzone's report, a draft of which has been seen by some in the arts community, will recommend ways that a gaming bill could mitigate the effects on the performing-arts community — perhaps by devoting a portion of the revenue stream from gaming directly to nonprofit performing-arts facilities, or by implementing some type of ban on performance venues in casinos.
Which is awesome - except for a little thing called "reality".
Still, that won't be good enough for some should gaming get its foot in the door. "Remember the arts lottery," warns Poulos. The lottery was once meant to funnel money to the arts; as other needs arose, that flow was shut off in the early 1990s.
Two stakeholders in Worcester's Hanover Theatre weigh in with a little reality check of their own.
We urge you not to be distracted by all of the noise about casino gambling in Massachusetts and do your own research. Look at New London, Conn., where more than 30 restaurants closed following the opening of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Look at Cripple Creek, Colo., whose once-thriving downtown went from 66 restaurants to less than 10. Look at performing arts centers in other cities where the impact from nearby resort casinos has been devastating. It took us less than an hour on the phone with managers of theatres in Reading, Pa., Fresno, Calif., and Ames, Iowa, to be convinced.
Not to worry. According to Joe Pacheco, aide to Bridgewater's Dave Flynn (D - Slots),
any gambling bill would also likely have a provision allowing residents in the host city or town to vote “yes” or “no” on the project.

“There has to be something to cover the interest of the community,” he said.
Yup, no doubt just like like they did in Middleoboro - where a favorable vote on a ballot initiative was secured by promising voters a billion-dollar casino with 5 star restaurants, a hotel, arena and water park, that, one year later had become a small casino with some food service.

And speaking of securing that vote, you may remember having heard from Scott Ferson, then-spokesperson for the Mashpee Wampanaog Tribe, who, from his Liberty Square office, would regularly shake down Middleboro residents with manufactured information, fractured facts and good old intimidation. But these days, Scott's positively brimming with indignation over Deval Patrick's opposition to slot parlors...
“The governor will fight like hell to save 100 jobs at a hotel,” said Scott Ferson, a spokesman for Raynham Park owner George Carney, former aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and outside adviser to the Patrick-Murray ticket in 2006. “He’ll spend probably over $10 million to save one job, his own. But he seems not to care about the 250 people who would lose their jobs, let alone the 500 who would have jobs there with slots at the tracks.” Referring to a comment Patrick made in December, Ferson said, “In determining his position against slots at the tracks, the governor says that he doesn’t want to be a jerk. The employees at Raynham are having a hard time understanding the subtleties of his position.”
Strong words indeed, especially since Scott wouldn't care about the unemployed unless he tripped over one on the way to his beemer. (They couldn't afford his fee.)

By the way, speaking of manufactured information, fractured facts and good old intimidation, UMass Dartmouth Prof. and gambling industry shill Clyde Barrow appeared on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney this week, along with Troy Siebels of Worcester's Hanover Theatre, denying his connections, insisting that no one could be smarter than he is, and revealing that casinos are from the Land of Chocolate.

But since we were on the subject of Middleboro, Marc Pacheco (D - Raynham Dog Track) recently went there to answer charges that his legislation was intentionally leaving Middleboro out of the running for a casino, to suck all the oxygen from the room, and to demonstrate his stellar math skills.
Solomini asked why states with a lot of casinos like Nevada and Florida have higher foreclosure rates than Massachusetts. Pacheco answered “They would have a higher foreclosure rate for they’re much larger”. Clearly he was confusing “rate” with “quantity”. This was a simple, clearly stated question that Pacheco failed to understand and answer.
Naturally, we can't talk of Middleboro and casinos without bringing up those two federally recognized, casino-seeking, wind turbine-hating tribes, the Mashpee and
Aquinnah Wampanoag, whose tribal leadership never falters in it's efforts to tick off anyone standing in the way of their sovereign right to make stuff up as they go along.
A few years ago we and others were urging their recognition, and then joyous when some of the tribe's horrible past was being addressed and remedied.

Now we feel antipathy and contempt for their lies and deceits.

I do not believe that either of these two well-educated and worldly Mashpee tribal leaders believe the fraudulent cow manure they have been shoveling to the press.
I suspect that Chuck Schumer understands. He's fighting to have land-in-trust decisions handled by Congress, and not by a one-size-fits-all federal policy in the hands of an unaccountable political appointee in the Interior Department.
“Given that the issues surrounding the land-trust process are challenging, and affect different parts of the country differently, Congress is the best place to mete out these issues,” Schumer’s office said.
Which sounds pretty good until you hear that the Akaka bill is expected to pass in the House. This bill
would accomplish something peculiar for a liberal republic in the 21st century: It would partly disenfranchise a portion of one state’s residents, create a parallel government for those meeting a legislated criterion of ethnic purity, and would portend the transfer of public assets, land, and political power from those who fail to satisfy the standard of ethnic purity to those who do. For these reasons and many more, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act richly deserves opposition.
What's the big deal, you ask? Well, trust me, the more you know about the failed federal policy that made suburban mega-casinos a reality, the more it makes your head spin. My pal Howard, an equal rights activist out in Minnesota warns that tribal 'gaming' and the federal bureaucracy that perpetuates it
is akin to the Ponzi schemes exposed on Wall Street and across the nation. He points out that old tribal ways, once revered, have been replaced by corporate power, gambling initiatives, and other practices that allow corruption and greed to hurt the local communities. In his address, President Obama pledged to strengthen tribal sovereignty, which Hanson claims will only serve to breed more racism and discrimination, perpetuating the exploitation and social issues plaguing the Indian people. He also points out that untaxed tribal trust lands contribute to the budget deficits plaguing many states, including Minnesota.
And while we know that Bob DeLeo, in his relentless quest to boost revenues at his own district's race tracks, doesn't give a rat's backside if it triggers a series of events that could turn the South Shore into a sovereign Atlantic City, the rest of us should be worried. In fact, Jim Marino, one of the few Indian gaming attorneys who can cast a reflection in a mirror, cautions that even in the best of circumstances
Most agreements made by local and state governments for the casino tribe to pay some money in lieu of taxes, if one is negotiated at all, are, in most cases, worthless and unenforceable because tribes seldom effectively waive their immunity from suit and refuse to divulge any income and expense information upon which such payments would be based. The vast profits accrued from the losses of gamblers enables tribal governments to unduly influence politicians and corrupt the political system and preserve their unregulated and tax free status. It is not long before nearby non-Indian businesses are forced out of business because they cannot compete with tax free, legally immune and unregulated Indian businesses.
Notice how it's always the local communities that get hurt?

At a Southeast Mass. regional selectman's meeting this week, a handful of representatives and planning officials from surrounding towns were alerted by members of the Western Mass. Casino Task Force and Steven Smith of the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, to the numerous "brutal" impacts local communities can expect - impacts that, nowhere in this nation have ever been independently assessed, included in gambling legislation, or effectively mitigated.

As to why legislators may be so reluctant to perform an impartial analysis that could spare communities these impact, Steve noted that the reason could be that
"Casino gambling is where objectivity goes to die."
But don't just take it from Steve. A recent national survey revealed that more people believe gambling facilities are detriment to local towns.
"They tell me that when it comes to casinos, there are two conversations going on," Peter Woolley, PublicMind's poll director, said Wednesday of the results. "One is among those who, like state governments, want to bring in more gambling. But the other is among people who would be impacted by the introduction of casinos. I was surprised that so many said they have a negative effect."
Another casualty of expanded gambling is the lottery. And, during these dark economic days, things are especially tough in golden sun-drenched Florida, home to 6 casinos, 9 racinos and various other places to blow your money. But heck, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And Florida's going deep.
The state pays millions to probe the thoughts and habits of potential lottery players. Consultants ask what they buy at convenience stores, whether they rent videos, go to theme parks, even how they feel about owning things and belonging to a group.

The results show the lottery relies on the poorest and least educated — "Thrill Seeking Dreamers," it calls them — to spend more than everyone else. Floridians shelled out nearly $4 billion on lottery tickets in 2008-09, with the Thrill Seekers accounting for half of those purchases.

Now, amid double-digit unemployment, the state needs new players — plus more money from the regulars.

"All of our efforts at the Lottery must be directed toward improving the current sales trend," Lottery officials said in a report to lawmakers late last year. They have the recommendations in hand with the opening this week of the 2010 legislative session.

Lottery officials proposed an aggressive plan, including selling tickets in more places, perhaps online, in restaurants and in Walmart, and offering more intense games, possibly one that offers hourly drawings.

Just think, here in Massachusetts, home to the Nation's most successful lottery, which, unlike casinos and slot parlors, sends the bulk of it's earnings back to the same cities and town that would be impacted by them, we too may one day experience the thrill of desperate governmental manipulation at the hands of marketing consultants. Simple hopes for a brighter future for sale on every corner, wallets scraped clean, pockets squeezed of every extra penny on the promise of a dream, for the benefit of the bottom line.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Massachusetts isn't Florida. Yet. And so I'll leave the last word to Joe Fitzgerald, who reminds us all in the Herald that

Yes, the commonwealth needs more revenue, especially as it continues to hemorrhage staggering sums through the greed and corruption that permeate the public sector; hardly a day goes by without another story detailing a betrayal of public trust.

But is this the answer to our fiscal problems? Encourage more people to bet, then let the state stuff its pockets with the money the losers leave behind?

This is good government? Please. This is obscene.

Normally the state at least pretends to care about us: No cigarettes in public venues! No candy in school vending machines! No roughhousing at recess! No trans fats in restaurant meals!

But in this shameless push to capitalize on a merciless addiction, it has abandoned all pretense of caring and readily admitted its only allegiance is to the Almighty Dollar, consequences be damned.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! So much information! Reading this how could anyone be agreeable to having any type of gambling facility in our state.

Let's keep them where they are now, in other state's, and watch from afar the shut down of businesses in area communities, the drain on their states revenue to compensate for what will become a public, local, state, problem.

Thank you. Keep telling it like it really is.

Anonymous said...

Just went by the IBEW head qtrs' in Dorchester today. Big Eboard reading "keep the money and jobs" rubbish. It should read, "We want the poor,rich,and middle class to loose their shirts at casinos, so the revenue can go to a good cause, putting more unfortunates on state assistance!" "oh, and we dont realise it, but the hard working people of the commonwealth are the main support system for state welfare!" Dumb.

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