Saturday, June 12, 2010

Silence May Be Golden, But Duct Tape is Silver...

There it was, illuminating the Rte. 93 night sky above a night-work traffic jam I found myself in, coming home from a very long day at the June 8th quote un-quote public hearing on expanded gambling.

A giant electronic Vegas-quality billboard flashing in the night sky.

Casinos Now!!
Jobs Now!!

The same slogan that emblazoned the orange t-shirts of a hundred or so hired union employees who clapped and booed un-chastized at every word of paid AFL-CIO spokesman Bobby Haynes in Gardner Auditorium.

Bobby Hanes spoke hours before most anti-casino activists (all of whom are unpaid volunteers from across the State) were allowed to testify before the committee, and was allowed to speak as long as he liked, without repercussion.  

In fact, by the time I went on, I don't recall a single person on either side who'd actually stuck to the 3 minute time limit.

There were many people that day thanking the Senate for it's transparency and diligence during the legislative process.

Senator Spilka answered concerns that there would only be one public hearing, by stating that there have been public hearings before.  Which I know, of course, because I've testified at both of them, and attended the one I wasn't allowed to testify at because, being a member of the public who resided between a town with dog track and another facing the threat of the world's biggest tribal casino, I was of no importance.

Senator Pacheco mentioned, several times, the fine work of Prof. Clyde Barrow, who helped the Governor develop his three casino vision between 2007 and 2008.

Senator Hart had, earlier that day, taken about 15 minutes to pontificate to the members of the audience, in what appeared to be a re-election campaign ad.  One of the first things he said, what stood out  most to me, and what was later echoed by Senator Richard Ross (who replaced Scott Brown) was
We are all agreed.  This is about jobs and the economy.

The thing is, the Commonwealth is not all in agreement about that.  That is why some of us were there.  That was why I created the USS-Mass web site - a web site that clearly demonstrates that Barrow is a paid industry lobbyist and shill, that not everyone in the Commonwealth believes the message is about jobs, and that there is WAY more than 3 minutes worth of issues to talk about.

Perhaps more than anything, it demonstrates to me that many of the people in the grassroots have a better handle on this issue than the Mass. Senate.

The following is my testimony before the committee. I wish I had the video of my testimony, but I can't locate it.

And so, I've inserted comments (in yellow text) about activity that was occurring as I spoke.
A recent poll conducted by Western New England College found that 56% of Mass. residents support the idea of casinos in Massachusetts.

Three years ago, I might have been one of that 56%, but then the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe announced it's intention to build the world's largest casino down the street from me in Middleboro.

My main concerns at that time were about additional traffic, drunk drivers and my property value.

Since then, I've done a lot of research on casinos, racinos, and federal Indian law. I've met and corresponded with people facing gambling expansion or living in gambling communities all over this country. And last year I put together a web site for, and learned even more.

I learned about the problem of Youth Gambling. 4% to 8% of adolescents (compared to 1% to 3% for adults) have very serious gambling problems, while another 10 to 15% are at risk.

Last year I met a young man who grew up in Florida before and after the construction of the Seminole resort casino.

According to him “Our high school students flocked there by the hundreds. In fact, I had friends skipping school to go gamble. No, they weren't of age; they were procuring false identification to feed their growing habit.”

Fifty percent of spouses and 10 percent of children experience physical abuse from pathological gamblers.

And casinos drastically increase crime – including numerous types of violent crime.  No matter how much you regulate it.

I learned that's it's expensive to regulate gambling. The New Jersey Casino Commission, for example, has five divisions each with a staff, and the New Jersey State Police maintains a separate Special Investigation Section with four special crime fighting units.

The slot machine, unlike alcohol or tobacco is a product that cannot be used in the home. It requires that the player go to the slot machine. In the case of the parent, day care provider or other caregiver, this aspect of gambling addiction can have tragic consequences.

We've all heard the stories about children being abandoned in vehicles in casino parking lots – well I've read countless news stories about children – being locked in trunks, abandoned in hotel corridors, in shopping malls, and in cars on side streets around casinos and slot parlors. In searing heat and freezing cold, many of these children, if found at all, require emergency care, often having to be “revived” at the scene. And these are only the cases that make the news. And they're not counting the young children and infants left home alone.

In Oct. of last year I was here at the State House, testifying on a panel which also included Natasha Schull of MIT, Dr. Hans Brieter of Mass General and Harvard Medical School and the Rev. Bob Massie, who has a doctorate in Business from Harvard, all of whom have testified again here today.

They explained that even Las Vegas casino operators had originally opposed the modern electronic slot machine, developed in the 80's, comparing it to “loaded dice” - until they found out how much money they could make with electronic loaded dice.

Now casinos make most of their money from slot machines - which create a different type of gambling addiction, that, in the human brain, looks the same as addiction to crack cocaine.

Now, the gambling industry's business model makes 90% of it's earnings from 10% of it's players – the same ones who are problem or pathological gamblers.

And so I ask you, do you suppose that 56% of Mass. Residents would still approve of casinos if they knew these things?

The USS-Mass web site contains over 40 pages of information, 80 videos, and hundreds of reports, studies, articles and other resources. Since the bill passed the House and moved to the Senate, the total amount of time spent on the USS-Mass web site from the State House totals 83 minutes - or an average of 2 minutes per Senator. (Gavel...) Which means that my 11 year old (Gavel...) spent more time on his 5th grade book report than the average senator has spent studying the statewide opposition message in preparation of this bill. (Gavel...)

And so, I want you to ask yourselves this question - do you really believe that the citizens of Massachusetts, (Gavel...) the same people who voted to abolish dog racing, who voted against selling liquor in grocery stores, and who have demanded laws to protect their children from bullying, (Gavel Gavel...)  would - if they really knew all the facts (Gavel Gavel...) - approve of legislation that will harm children, increase crime, including violent crime, create a new bureaucracy, promote a product that cheats consumers and generates new addicts, over the advice of doctors from Harvard and MIT, and after having performed less research than your average 5th grader.
(Gavel Gavel Gavel Gavel...)

Generations will suffer and some will lose their lives to this legislation. Prove to the citizens of Commonwealth that you've done your homework. Call for an independent cost/benefit analysis of expanded gambling in Massachusetts.

Thank you.

At the conclusion of my testimony, Senator Hart, with his angry eyes on, verbally chastised me for going over my time. I don't have the video yet, but I'd be pretty surprised if I'd gone over 4 minutes.

For the record, I finally spoke at roughly 6:30 p.m. - after having been at the State House for over 7 1/2 hours, politely listening to the testimony of legislators, paid lobbyists, casino developers and racetrack owners.

None of whom were ahead of me in the sign-up line.

So much for transparency.  So much for diligence.  So much for the public.


Middleboro Remembers said...

Bravo for wasting your time attempting to speak the Truth!

It was clear that the Sham Committee had imbibed the Casino KoolAid to excess.

Ignore the facts.

Quote phony job numbers.

21,000 jobs? Never happened.

Good paying jobs?

When did minimum wage become good jobs?

It was carefully crafted so the Casino Cheerleaders appeared on the 6:00 News and ignored the opponents.

So much for Casino Tyranny!

Where's that Playbook?

No proof. No facts. No substantiation.

Get out those PomPoms, stand in front of the State House and proclaim good jobs ???

Who is asking questions?

It surely wasn't that pathetic Sham Committee [except for Senator Tucker]!

What a pity the Sham Committee allowed a casino developer to speak for + 20 minutes!

Wasn't that the developer they peppered with questions about IGRA because they had failed to do their research?

You should be ashamed of yourself for exceeding your time limit to attempt to enlighten Neanderthals! :)

Gladys Kravitz said...

Thanks MR, and thanks for making the effort to testify, and for your excellent, well-research points about casino employment.

But we WEREN'T wasting our time.

We are writing about it, remembering it, blogging it, recording it, and ultimately, making a difference.

What would have been the message if everyone had stayed home?

Anonymous said...

You both opened our eyes in Fall River.

Skoorey said...

I was there as well. It was pathetic to see all the politicians and special interest people jumping over us to speak. My partner and I had to leave at 5 to get back to Fall River to speak at the city council meeting. We signed in at 11:30 am, and by 5 no one from the common man group has been called. Suits suits suits.

By the way, in Fall River, public input is FIRST. A much better way to work. And if a politician has something to say, they get in line like the rest of us.

I thought Boston was a huge waste of time for me. I saw very early on how the vote was going to go. They kept saying they were open to argument, but it was clear they were not. They had already decided. The entire hearing was a dog and pony show.

I am glad you said what you did, but I am sure you noticed that after the pols spoke, the press left.

Also, why didn't Cedric Crowell speak? He avoided questions by doing so.

This thing is rigged.

Gladys Kravitz said...

Skoorey, thanks so much for coming all the way to the hearings. You weren't the only one who left early. A woman named Jacquie was the first one in line - at 10:00 am - and she had to leave to go home and do what real members of the public have to do - be home for the bus.

More than half the USS-Mass panel had to leave to go to their jobs etc.

But I've learned something valuable about these sort of disappointing occasions. They are an ample supply of future ammunition.

One nice legislative aide suggested that, if I had suggestions about how these hearings could run better, I should write to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. I think this is legislative-speak for "tell them you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it any more."

There ARE members of the Senate who are anti-casino or undecided. Let them know your city has not been given a fair shake.

My e-mail goes out tonight, cc'd to the Governor. That is very important.

CC all your local representatives, and send a copy to your local paper or write and editorial.

One thing I find outrageous about your situation in Fall River is this: I have had 3 years to organize and educate myself. The State is not giving Fall River that same opportunity, and even less to the unknown towns in MA that will be the victims on the alter to the casino industry if this legislation is passed.

There are billionaire casino investors laughing at our pliant (and complicit) legislators as we speak.

Middleboro Remembers said...

The Senate "sensitive to the criticism that was leveled at the lack of Hearings in the House" carefully scripted the scenario so that when the Casino Cheerleaders, given priority, were finished, the ever famous news cycle was silent.

And when Senator Pacheco babbled his endless comments, sucking up a lot of time, repeating the same thing and intoning the name of his "Patron Saint of Gambling Statistics," that was worth the price of admission.

Oh! Wait! It was FREE!

Yes! It has not gone unnoticed and has been blogged about. The loss of our democracy and the installation of the Casino Culture is worth remembering.

"Wasted" was perhaps a poor choice of words!

What I loved was when the un-named Chairwoman sitting behind Senator Brewer's placard thought ALL opponents were FINALLY gone so she could go home.

It doesn't get any better than that moment when I stood up from our concealed front row seats to announce our presence.

Surprise! We're not gone!

(I'll just bet she was muttering "Damn!" unheard because that's not the way they scripted this.)

Skoorey, never, ever feel that your time was wasted. It allowed you to see how willing your elected officials believe overestimates of jobs and revenues, underestimates of costs and impacts and simply ignore voters.

That those Senators asked that attorney so many questions about Indian Gaming tells you they have failed to conduct their due diligence - their homework.

It tells you that they are about to embark on legislation that might as well have been written on a napkin for all the research they have done.

That 20 minutes clearly revealed the failure of Beacon Hill to research IGRA/IRA and their incompetence.

They also failed to include wiretapping. They included "EXCLUSIVITY" for the state police to appease the well connected.

Remember - you are the media!

Make your voices heard.

Anonymous said...

In watching/hearing this committee's working process for the common good of he general public has been disgusting, very depressing, and makes me sad to think our legislator's are putting on nothing but a class B play to say they did what is expected of our government. Thumbs down.

But Gladys, USS, the new Fall River friends, don't let them discourage you. You have made a difference. The public is watching and listening, it's our own legislator's who are not.

I for one will remember this Nov.