Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Region C Playlist: My comments to the Mass Gaming Commission set to music

To the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as to whether they should expand the deadline for casino proposals in Region C:

American Pie

The unthinkable has happened.

A casino has shut its doors in Mississippi. A struggling billion dollar casino in Atlantic City received millions in taxpayer incentives, only to go bankrupt earlier this month. Most of New Jersey's casinos have filed for bankruptcy. Delaware has proposed lowering taxes on and bailing out its casinos, and has added sports betting to prevent to prevent layoffs.

Pennsylvania has efficiently carpet bombed the Northeast with 11 casinos since 2006. Maryland legalized casinos in 2008, Massachusetts in 2011, and New York voted to expand gambling last year. All in all, 26 casinos have been built in the Northeast since 2004, with proposals for seemingly more every day.

The repercussions of this building boom are now being felt here in New England. Both Connecticut casinos have eliminated thousands of jobs in recent years, and Foxwoods recently closed one of it's gaming floors, ironically named “The Rainmaker Casino”. Rhode Island added table games at Twin River, and investors hope to upgrade Newport Grand with more slots and table games to better compete with Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, gambling revenues are down all over the country.

And the threat of Internet gambling looms on the horizon.

They say that Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But it doesn't take a genius to understand that a pie can only be sliced so thin before it starts to fall apart.

The gambling market has become so saturated that the lucrative returns assumed and promised back when Massachusetts began debating legalized gambling are never going to be realized.

Turns out the gambling industry is not a golden goose. It has limitations like every other competitive industry.

I've heard both the Governor and MGC Chairman Crosby state that the gambling law doesn't necessarily require that Massachusetts build three casinos and a slots parlor. If so, then why does the MGC continue to push for that very number? And why in Region C - already so close to the Connecticut and Rhode Island casinos and Plainville slots parlor, with a tribal casino still on the table, and other proposals on the table in the not-very-far-off Boston area.

Especially troubling is that the MGC appears to be wooing developers to the region. Is that really the job of a regulator?

If developers aren't anxious to expand here, perhaps they have a good reason.

Forget You

Why does it appear that the Gambling Industry continually receives concessions from both lawmakers and regulators?

In 2007 Middleboro voted to approve an agreement for a tribal casino, but in a separate vote, voted that they didn't want a casino at all. But the board of selectmen happily signed the agreement anyway and within a month the tribe's chairman would be in jail.

The Governor repeatedly refused to meet with regional casino task forces that represented millions of Massachusetts citizens, but met frequently with the tribe and various casino lobbyists.

For years, Massachusetts citizens would sign in FIRST to speak at legislative hearings, only to be kept waiting for hours, all day or into the night to speak, well after the press had left. At one hearing where I had signed in first, I watched as gambling lobbyists were given the floor earlier and allowed unlimited time to speak, while I was gaveled to silence as soon as my three minutes were up.

Because of casinos, I have personally created web sites, written newsletters, traveled across the state, held signs, attended meetings, testified before committees, maintained databases, protested, maintained a blog, created videos, struggled with Federal Indian law, wrote to my elected officials, survived threats, educated voters, collected signatures and have repeatedly squared both politicians and the press. For over seven years.

There are no casino proponents, nobody clicking on a poll or answering a survey, no editorial board, anonymous commenter, casino owner, gambling lobbyist or gaming 'expert', who has maintained the passion and perseverance that I, and my colleagues around the state have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate on this issue.

And yet, we can't get a fair shake. Our voices aren't counted.  Everything is always done for the sake, and the ultimate benefit of the industry. And the powers that be shake their heads in wonder at why the general public has lost faith in them.

Stop Draggin' My Heart Around

Why is it important to me that you do not extend the deadline in region C?

In 2007 an old friend from Middleboro asked me to come to a meeting about a casino proposed near his home. He would become part of the opposition movement there, but soon had to step back. I was later told that the stress of the casino fight has sent him to the hospital on a couple of occasions.

And that's what it's like.

While I realize you hear differently from proponents and gambling industry insiders, for many of us, the thought of a casino near one's home or business, fighting billionaires, pleading with tone-deaf politicians and dealing those who believe a casino is their personal pot at the end of the rainbow can be an incredibly taxing, financially draining and emotionally devastating experience. And I know because since the casino scare in Middleboro near my home, my own town has seen it's own never-ending share of casino proposals, and proposal in towns nearby. I am surrounded.

When does it end?

For many of us who don't live in the affluent cities and towns that will never see a casino proposal, it is more than our property values at stake. It is the life we choose to live, the values we share, our quality of life and the place we raise our children.

Please stop giving the gambling industry more chances to divide our communities, turn neighbor against neighbor, feed into low expectations, and force surrounding towns to beg at the trough for handouts.

Stop expanding the deadline for region C.

UPDATE:  As once might expect, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the regulatory and marketing arm and  of the gambling industry, approved extending the deadline for applicants in Region C.  Unanimously.


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