Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Before There Was Us

Note: All quotes in this post are from a March 1982 Yankee Magazine article entitled "Gambling on the Future of Hull".

At one of the early meetings of CasinoFreeMass a little troupe of unfamiliar senior citizens entered the conference room and sat down at our table. After a bit of awkwardness and some introductions, I learned they were from the towns of Hull and Cohassett – and the remnants of an anti-casino group from the early 80's.

What? You mean we weren't the only group to oppose casinos in Massachusetts?

Nope. While other States across our nation were starting to fall for the lame promises of the gambling industry, Massachusetts still had the good sense, the good sense it's had forever, not to legalize gambling. And it did so without the mountain of data we have today (thanks to those other States) which proves that casinos cause crime and social problems, use equipment engineered to addict people, neither lower taxes nor act as an economic panacea, tend to cause regional casino arms races, and are costly to regulate.
In 1977 the town of Hull voted on a referendum to permit licensing of a gambling casino within the town. But not everyone is Hull is ready to accept “The Windjammer” as inevitable. There is Hull's “Citizen's Against Casino Gambling”
And apparently, they were still ready to fight. They'd come to join, and to contribute CACG's remaining funds to our new coalition.
By February of 1981 “Citizens Against Casino Gambling” was a corporation that included people from other Massachusetts towns who feared the influence of legal casinos from Dennis on Cape Cod, where the Windermere Hotel was up for sale and MGM Grand was making presentations; from Adams in the western part of the State where MGM Grand had another casino in the planning stages.
Beth, an original member of CACG spoke glowingly of the days when they stood up to casino interests – and won. You could tell she was extremely proud of the work her group had accomplished, and of how the members of her group had banded together for strength and support – all these years.

At another meeting Beth passed around copies of a 1982 Yankee Magazine article about her group which, interestingly, included the viewpoints of proponents as well.
Bob Burns, a slight middle-aged man with thinning ginger hair, recalled the beginnings: “Six years ago, I was serving on the Hull Planning Board, kicking around ideas, and suggested the casino. Everybody thought we might as well check it out. Why not? You have to understand that we had, and still have a lot of problems in Hull.
Reading the article on the train ride home, I was taken by the many similarities between the determined members of her group and those anti-casino groups I'd been a part of recently.

For instance, while the town of Hull was the site of the proposed casino, this didn't limit citizens from surrounding towns from joining the opposition. And as we've seen in the cases of the proposed Middleboro and Palmer casinos, some of the of the strongest voices and most active members of the opposition have hailed from the towns next door.

And further proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same when you fight casinos - was the backlash the opposition got from proponents.
Sometimes it makes me feel more determined; if I weren't really onto something they wouldn't bother, would they? The hard part is the anger of people from your own town, people you've known for years. The desperation – the belief that this thing is literally Hull's last hope – that's what frightens me.
CACG, like more recent coalitions, had done it's research. But, in the age before the Internet or the Indian Gaming Act – they went to the closest source - Atlantic City.
I had been there a few years ago and knew it was fairly run-down, but I didn't expect it to be so awful...the casinos themselves were gorgeous, very elaborate, everything the best. They were much more beautiful than I had imagined. And some of the cars parked outside were Lincolns, Rolls Royce's. Gucci things in the shops. But outside the casinos, nothing has changed, and the contrast makes it seem even worse, like a Third World Country where a few people lived lavishly and the rest starve. I talked to everybody I could and they all told me the same thing: they voted for it, and now they wish they hadn't...
But perhaps most surprising is that, almost thirty years ago, jobs, tax revenue, and inevitability were still the most popular reasons to support casinos.
“It's going to happen,” Burns said. “It took years to dispel the bogeymen, and finally the public accepted it. There'll be a lot of the old “hoods and hookers' arguments. Okay, it may bring prostitution, but what about the Combat Zone in Boston today? Any hotel convention center will have prostitution whether there's a casino or not.”
Well, it didn't happen. And the Combat Zone? It found a new home on Craig's List.

Isn't it interesting, though, that casinos always come up when 'We the People' begin to settle for low expectations instead of aiming for high ones?

Thank goodness not everybody gets sucked in.
...in December 1981... the directors of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously to oppose the construction of a casino in Hull. The nation's largest suburban Chamber of Commerce studied the costs and benefits of a Hull casino and concluded that it would create serious traffic and crime problems for the entire area, while providing fewer jobs and less of a boost to tax revenues and local business than predicted by casinos backers.

There's a lot more about this 'inevitable' Hull casino in the original Yankee Magazine article, which I've posted here, complete with old advertisements for handy helpers, weed killers and what passed for hot New England fashion back then. I recommend it.

Back in Boston, Beth removed a small plastic bag from of her purse. Inside were a dozen or so handsome little blue pins which spelled out “NO CASINO” in gold letters. She'd found them in her basement - artifacts from another age and anti-casino battle.

Take one, she insisted, passing the bag around the table.

Some did, some didn't.

I asked for extra.

Beth smiled, perhaps recognizing a little something familiar, and said she'd see what she could do.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Brain that Wouldn't Die

That Brian Giovannoni. You can't keep him down. Just when you thought he'd faded forever from the casino celebrity pantheon, there he is.

This time he's quoted in the Enterprise (naturally) disputing some of the information in the James Lynch report recently presented by the town of Halifax.
Giovanoni said one point is in direct contradiction to the tribe’s federal recognition, which found continuous tribal ties dating to first contact with European settlers.
Brian, I don't know if you realize this, but the idea that the Mashpee Wampanoag's Federal recognition might not exactly be the paragon of truth and accuracy has been bandied about for quite some time now.

In fact, Lynch's report is dismantling, brick by brick, the information in that very report provided by the Mashpee's during the federal recognition process.
Lynch is also “saying this tribe has never asserted political authority over any residents within the town of Middleboro, which is untrue,” Giovanoni said. “There are voting members of the tribe living here today.”
Now look, I don't have as big a brain as Brian, and it's certainly not like I'm some sort of water engineer, but aren't the Mashpee supposed to exhibit "continuous" political authority? Not just modern day political authority. Middleboro area Indians may have moved out and down to Mashpee - but they didn't appear, according to Lynch, to move in the other direction.

Lynch also says this about political authority (emphasis mine):
The Mashpee tribe has never asserted political authority over any residents within the town of Middleboro who are of Indian ancestry.
He then gives us an exhaustive run-down and a who's-who of centuries past, leaving us with this tender link to what might have constituted a Mashpee-Middleboro alliance:
This research has also argued that a single marriage between a purported Mashpee Indian, who previous to this marriage removed from Mashpee, ceased his tribal relations with Mashpee and had settled at Middleboro with a fourth generation descendant of the then defunct (c.1791) Massasoit/Tispaquin Pokanoket leadership lineage does not constitute a meaningful or significant historical or cultural event. If, on the other hand, this purported expatriate Mashpee, Silas Ross (Rosier) was the son of a politically viable, living Mashpee sachem, and Phebe Squin was the daughter of a politically viable, living, Pokanoket sachem or sunksqua, a definite political significance could be attributed to such an event. But this was clearly not the case. As was noted earlier, the center of gravity of political leadership of the remnant of the Pokanoket had shifted years before to the reserve at Fall River. Even then the extent of that political authority was, like Mashpee, restricted to those who were living in tribal relations on the reserve. It did not extend to Middleboro.
And furthermore,
It was in essence a marriage between two individuals, both residents of Middleboro, a marriage that left no descent progeny. An active descent line would be through Phebe’s second marriage to Brister Gould and through their seven children. We know nothing of Gould’s ancestry other than he was a Revolutionary War veteran and his occupation was a teamster. The family resided at East Weymouth, Massachusetts where Brister Gould died in 1823. She was still residing there in 1878.
So there you go. But perhaps Brian knows something we don't.

Still, rest assured, the Tribe has apparently cut a another check to Christine Grabowski, author of the report Lynch is disputing, to dig up some 'new' historical information which, I have no doubt, will attempt to help the Tribe conform to the Federal definition required to get that land in Middleboro. Land which they're still not going to get anyway, because of the Carcieri and Hawaii decisions. It's just a good year to be an ethno-historian, I guess.

But in other news, the Enterprise (always with their finger right on the pulse) may have finally started to see the light on the dead casino issue - as it has actually printed another article which reads
Now, two years since the deal of July 28, 2007, was struck, the chances of a casino coming to Middleboro appear increasingly slim.
Hey, ya think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gambling with the Future

The following is an important article by friend and colleague Tom Larkin.

Youth Gambling

“We will face, in the next decade or so, more problems with youth gambling than we will face with drug use.”

-- Howard Shaffer, Director, Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies

Public officials promoting expanded legalized gambling should pause, do some independent homework and re-think the consequences. Independent studies consistently demonstrate long term costs easily outweigh short term benefits by $3 to $1. (Gambling in America-Costs and Benefits by Earl Grinols, 2004-summary on line)

The costs of expanded gambling include increases in crime, bankruptcy and addictions of all kinds. And the existing, serious, under-recognized youth gambling problems will worsen

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC-1999) provided evidence that more money is spent on college campuses on gambling than on alcohol. They cite a study by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger that minors as young as 9 years old were able to purchase lottery tickets 80% of their attempts, 60% of minors were able to place bets on Keno machines and 75% of high school seniors report having played the lottery. The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery reports 80% of those between 12 and 17 say they have gambled in the last 12 months and 35% report they gamble at least once a week. Robert Goodman, in The Luck Business (1996), reported evidence that gambling is the fastest growing teenage addiction, with the rate of pathological gambling twice that of adults. A McGill University review of the literature (Youth Gambling Problems-2005-on line) cites research revealing adolescent problem gambling leads to delinquency, alcohol use, criminal behavior, depression and suicide. They confirm that 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. These statistics are alarming.

Problem gambling has become legitimized, destigmatized and is socially invisible. Gambling addiction, unlike smoking and alcohol use, is promoted by government. Increases in gambling opportunities, will double the number of problem gamblers, according to a study done by the NGISC. (p.4-4)

Internet gambling activities exemplify the most dangerous aspect of gambling, especially youth gambling. It places electronic gambling at every school desk, work station and living room. (The US International Gambling Report, John Kindt editor, 2008) cites research on the dangerous link between gambling sites and video games, alleging the internet gambling system target markets children and teens with “free” video games. (p. 55). In a 2005 Media Awareness Network (MNet) survey, 23% of male students in grades 10 and 11 reported visiting a gambling internet site in the past year. Of particular concern is the special attraction to youth of on line sports wagering.

The NGISC unanimously recommended legislation to ban internet gambling. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act Legislation of 2006 was passed, with the support of 49 of State Attorney Generals. Despite this, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to enforce it, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank has filed a bill to repeal it. (Kindt p. 53)

Public officials unwittingly accept the distorted message that the economics of gambling will support educational funding. In most states, legislators reduced educational allotments from the general fund by about the same amount raised through gambling revenues. Gambling ultimately destabilizes the economy. (Kindt, p. 135 and 43)

The school’s greatest problem with the “casino culture” is a conflict in thinking, behaving and values. Schools are expected to foster student attitudes that are not about luck, materialism, winning and instant gratification but about equal opportunity, doing the best you can (win, lose or draw), sharing, hard work, financial responsibility and long term thinking. Maladaptive behaviors, as well as adaptive behaviors, are learned from family, friends, school teachers and the cultural values of the environment. Youth learn to gamble in the same ways they learn to smoke, to drink, to over eat or to acquire any other self defeating behavior.

Young people today are the first generation to grow up with video games, computers and in an environment in which gambling has been legal their entire life. They are particularly vulnerable to its lure. Public officials should not minimize this.

Tom Larkin is a retired Boston School Psychologist and SMART Recovery Facilitator.

July 23, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

In the 'Hood

The report, compiled by Connecticut-based historian James Lynch and paid for by the town of Halifax, concludes that the Mashpee tribe "has never maintained a tribal political or social presence within the Town of Middleboro."

- From the Cape Cod Times Casino Foes Fed Ammunition
Once again a surrounding community has stepped up to oppose a Middleboro casino.

So let's hear it for all of Middleboro's nosey nieghbors - who've paid for expensive experts, formed task forces, compiled exhaustive lists of concerns, fought for the right to have an anti-casino fundraiser on town property, organized, created web sites, put out newsletters, written editorials and letters, made calls, talked to their reps, held forums and who've come out to meetings, conferences, rallies and hearings, who've debated, held signs, made signs, gotten up early, stayed up late, juggled schedules and lives, put careers on hold, raised money and donated, who've crunched numbers, groomed databases, asked questions, made statements, performed extensive research, blogged, educated, entertained, revealed the truth, withstood the slings and arrows of their critics, answered the call, never gave up, stayed involved, stuck together, lent their tireless support to the anti-casino cause and it's people - and who never even once got the chance to vote on whether they wanted a casino.
Anti-casino advocates in Middleboro have long claimed the Wampanoag ties to the town are bogus, accusing the tribe's investors of reservation shopping.
Think again. Anti-casino advocates are everywhere.

And while we're at it - let's hear it for that guy from Middleboro, Frank Dunphy, who was always there for us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Six Degrees of Suffolk Downs

A Non-Lobbyist Spends a Day at the Races
Observing the Spilka Hearings on Expanding Gambling in Massachusetts

On Friday, June 26th, less than a month after the State Democratic Party decided to oppose predatory gambling, a mere week after Massachusetts passed an ethics bill, and three days before a much anticipated informational hearing on expanded gambling, Senator Karen Spilka's (D - Ashland) office, finally announced the time, place and list of speakers for that hearing.

With all that time on my hands, I leisurely conducted some research on the 10 people hand-selected to speak and discovered that, for a hearing described as “informational” - the deck appeared pretty well stacked in favor of the 'gaming' industry.

And so I called Senator Spilka's office, as did virtually every other anti-predatory gambling activist in the State, to register my concern and express my displeasure with this stilted panel, and spoke with a nice young man who calmly explained to me that this hearing was purely to gather information about expanded 'gaming' for the senators on the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee.

“But..." I replied, "wouldn't you agree that the senator should be gathering unbiased information from various sides of the debate? You know... not just the one?

He repeated that the Senator was simply gathering information at this point.

And I repeated my previous statement.

And he repeated his.

So the two of us went 'round and 'round like that until it became clear that I should accept the fact that, in this instance, the commonly accepted practice of forming decisions based on the impartial and balanced testimony of a well-rounded panel of experts from all sides of a debate, was being momentarily suspended for reasons I needn't trouble myself with.

And they're off!

Before we all knew it, (which of course was the point) it was Monday morning.

At the Statehouse. And way too early.

Uncomfortable flashbacks to the Spring of 2008 and Gardner Auditorium, with it's tortuous tier of blue carpeted bleachers along the back wall, and where I (sort of) experienced democracy in action (13 long hours of it, in fact) at last year's casino hearings, which convinced me to get there early and beat the union throng to a good seat.

But turns out there was no need. The union throng had stayed home. Instead, while I sucked down a bagel and coffee, the room filled slowly and steadily with well-groomed, professional-looking people, virtually none of whom I recognized - but all of whom seemed to recognize each other. Lobbyists, I presume?

At 10:15 or so, Senator Spilka kicked off the hearing by announcing that it was intended only to gather information for the senators...

Then why isn't the panel balanced!?!?

...and that it was not about job creation...

...which explained lack of union presence and ample available seating....

The Front Runner

First up to the microphone is Michael Pollock from Spectrum Gaming Group – the same company which compiled Governor Patrick's 300 page, $189,000 casino study last year. The same study which suggested the Bay State could benefit from three casinos – mimicking what perennial casino cheerleader-for-hire and UMass. Dartmouth Professor Clyde Barrows (also appearing on the panel today!) had been saying.

But Spectrum's report differed from Barrows in at least one major respect. While Barrows was recommending three commercial casinos, Spectrum had determined that two commercial casinos and one tribal casino would be the perfect mix.

And I'm certain this could have had nothing to do with the fact that Sol Kerzner, the South African billionaire casino investor behind both Rhode Island's Twin Rivers and Connecticut's Mohegan Sun, and one of the men who wanted to put the Mashpee Wampanoag casino on the map, was a client.

Spectrum, in fact, once proudly listed Kerzner International as a client on the front page of their web site though, for some reason, this year, it's no where to be found.

However, they do provide you with an easy link to Spectrum's own magazine, named after it's publisher and today's Spilka-panel featured speaker (you guessed it) Michael Pollock.

I don't know how much the State paid Spectrum to be here today, but Pollock confirms pretty much something we all know already – that people are saving their money these days – not blowing it at the casino, and also admits that this is a good thing (though certainly not for the "gaming industry").

Another informed tidbit that doesn't come as a surprise – the 'gaming' industry tends to cause an arms race wherever it goes. For example, in response to Pennsylvania legalizing a whopping 60,000 slot machines, Delaware and West Virginia legalized table games.

And furthermore, size matters. It's not a matter of having too many casinos, it's how big they are that counts.

After Pollock finishes up, Senator Tucker (D - Andover) brings up the fact that 90% of the profits from casinos comes from 10% of the players – and that the industry's business model subsequently requires that they need to find, and market to, the out-of-control gambler.

“Therefore," she inquires, "how can we regulate an industry that relies on addicted gamblers for it's profits?”

He mumbles something I can't really hear about affluent families and free bus rides.

Senator Tucker responds that affluent families are not getting free bus rides.

And neither it seems, is Mr. Pollock.


Up next are Jim Klocke from the Boston Chamber and Carl Jenkins of UHY Advisors.

Last year this tag team also did a study - one which suggested that “three large destination-style casinos in various regions of the State” would create roughly a bazillion jobs and several gazillion in annual revenue.

By the way, I realize this hearing isn't supposed to be about 'job creation', but nevertheless, we always hear about the temporary and permanent jobs that come with casinos.

For the record, when we talk about the temporary jobs, we are reffering to the ones that are construction related – and would be associated with the establishment of most other industries requiring construction. And the permanent jobs, well they're the types you typically find on the annual Forbes list of worst paying jobs – including 'gaming dealer' - a profession you'll find a lot of people mistakenly believe is a one of the better jobs at a casino.

Incidentally, in their study, Jim and Carl also failed to break out their calculators to account for certain costs – like how casinos would effect existing businesses or tourism, or how Massachusetts would be impacted by gambling expansion in other States - which the Spectrum guy just told us always happens.

And while the report admitted that certain 'societal impacts' such as "gambling addictions, crime, and personal bankruptcy rates would almost certainly increase" - they did attempt to turn that frown upside down by stating that there would still be the "Potential for individuals' improved physical & mental health due to increased employment and employment-based health care ".

(You know - just like they would have in other new industries that don't come with additional addiction, crime and bankruptcy.)

However, Jim and Carl also agree with Mike that less people are gambling – and so this might not be the greatest time to put licenses up for bid.

But in the meantime, Senator Tucker wants to know how it is that New Jersey, with all it's thousands upon thousands of slot machines, has higher taxes than we do.

The answer is, well, that the industry isn't a “panacea”. It won't solve all our tax problems.

And that's funny - because isn't a "panacea" exactly what it's supposed to be? I mean - it's being marketed to the public as a "panacea". And I hear all the time how this industry will create all sorts of wonderful jobs, fund education, repair roads, save towns, shore up the budget, revive the racetracks and cure gambling addiction all at the same time.

But before Senator Tucker can point this out - the room is suddenly abuzz.

The Favorite

State Attorney General Martha Coakley, an actual political celebrity, has arrived.

To my relief, she brings up another cost everyone seems to forget – regulating the industry.

Yup, just another way in which the 'gaming industry' differs from a normal business is the amount of coin needed to protect us all from it.

There must be an in-place regulatory and enforcement structure, Coakley says, and the process must be transparent...


...and the public must be made aware of what interests are involved in trying to bring this industry to Massachusetts...

(Oh yeah, that'll happen.)

...there would need to be be hundreds and hundreds of employees dedicated to gaming regulation and monitoring...

(hey - those Turnpike Authority jobs have to go somewhere)

...monitoring, auditing, consumer protection, debt collection, privacy...

(just think of all those pensions!)

And then, unexpectedly, Coakley admits that the possibility of Indian Gaming is effectively over in Massachusetts.

(You heard it here, first, ladies and gentlemen...)

For those of us who got their first taste of the 'gaming industry' two years ago when we were told repeatedly that a Middleboro casino was an inevitable done deal - and that try as we might we could do nothing about it - this is something of a defining moment.

Sadly, it is a nuance no doubt lost on the majority of this committee.

When the Attorney General is finished with her formal presentation, Senator Spilka thanks her for bringing these “myriad” issues forward, to which Martha responds that it's an issue of resources. In fact, the State still needs an enterprise crime bill to combat drugs and guns in places like Medford, Boston and Worcester.

And there I was, suddenly hit with the realization that there are a lot of people in this room delighted to bring an industry to my home state that will not only offer a lot of low-paying jobs, cause a plethora of 'societal impacts', not lower taxes and require “myriad” regulatory adjustments, but that it's very enforcement would require the same type of bill we could really use now to combat drugs and guns.

Drugs and guns....

In my mind's eye, I am riding a horse along a sandy picturesque beach when I suddenly happen upon the Statue of Liberty, half buried in the surf.

“You damn dirty apes! You blew it up! You blew it all to hell!”

How can anyone think bringing this industry to Massachusetts is a good idea?

Back in the Gardner Auditorium, Sue Tucker comments that, of all the various industries the Bay State has been courting in the past few years – biotec and green technologies for example - she can think of none that have required numerous hearings like this one.

The Senator is being ironic. She knows full well that biotech and green are 21st century forward-thinking industries which create good paying jobs, have long futures, and don't come with a documented history of corruption, addiction, increased crime, foreclosures, bankruptcy, child abuse and neglect and suicide.

Among other things.

Additionally, the senator remarks that she always hears how 'we can put these facilities up in six months...' and wants to know exactly what that would mean for Ms. Coakley's office.

Martha utters a single word.


The Gelding

Next is another sort of celeb - a notorious one to those of us with two years of 'gaming' industry propaganda under our belts. UMass Dartmouth Professor Clyde Barrows. The man who turned counting license plates in Connecticut into a lilfe-sustaining career.

Clyde Barrows, who is quoted in the media at least once a month, is to the gambling industry what Silas was to Opus Dei in the Da Vinci Code.

But this morning it's not license plates he's here to talk about. No, today, he begins by referenceing the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) - which apparently is the “statistical classification standard underlying all establishment-based economic statistics in the U.S. Canada, & Mexico.”

Not only that, boys and girls, but the “NAICS classifies business establishments into twenty different Sectors and assigns each business establishment in North America a six-digit code.”

And guess what? Under NAICS Major Sector Code 71, otherwise known as Arts, Entertainment & Recreation, following subsector 711 (Performing Arts, Spectator Sports and Related Industries) and right after subsector 712 (Museum, Historical Sites & Similar Institutions) is none other than subsector 713 (Amusement, Gambling & Recreation)

It's official. Deval was right. Gambling really is entertainment!

Because if the NAICS says it - then it must be true.

Clyde, nevertheless, fails to mention this would also imply that Cockfighting falls under subsector 711 (spectator sports) while Brothels and Crack Houses (Amusement and Recreation) would share subsector 713 with Gambling.

But the message is clear. Gambling is just another legitimate pastime, like going to a Celtics game or visiting Plymouth Plantation. You can feel good about it.

Oh, and another thing. Gambling is pretty.

In his Power Point presentation and handout, Clyde uses some really slick pictures of Foxwoods casino. This is one of them:

Sexy, huh? This is the kind of photo you use of a casino when you really want to sell it.

This is a less flattering angle.

Mohegan Sun actually wants to deposit something like this less than a mile from downtown Palmer, Massachusetts. (Hey - is that Clyde down there in the parking lot!)

Barrows, who co-authored a paper titled, The Persistence of Pseudo-Facts in the U.S. Casino Debate: The Case of Massachusetts, in which he insists that you can trust him because he's a policy analyst while everyone else is merely part of "the chattering class", doesn't want you to see what Foxwoods really looks like. He would like us to be reassured by comforting advertising photos of luminous Cinderella castles rising from enchanted forests.

Clyde would prefer the Senators not see the many homes in the area for sale, the proximity of elementary schools to the casino, the lack of local businesses, the neighboring single family homes used for "hot bunking" multitudes of low-wage casino workers, the road trash or the ever present exhaust-belching tour buses which idle in the parking lots for hours on cold days. In fact, that would be downright counter-productive to that whole “entertainment” theme he's got going on today.

If Clyde Barrows is a 'policy analyst', then I'm not really an 'activist blogger' - I'm a 'non-lobbyist.'

Because Clyde is a salesman, and everyone knows it - even the Senators and even the 'gaming' industry. And right now he's trying to sell us a vacuum cleaner. One that will suck the money out of our pockets while promising us an easier, better life.

When Clyde's sales pitch presentation is finally over, but before he can manage to slither off, Senator Tucker asks, “as someone who is quoted on this subject more than anyone else, can you tell us, how are you compensated?"

He is paid, he explains, by the UMass Center for Policy Analysis, though... once or twice there may have been that thing for the Rhode Island Building Trades Council, and then there was that other thing for the Rhode Island Senate something or other and way back in '97 he picked up a little work for the Wampanoags.

What he doesn't mention is that those 'things' were part of efforts to build casinos.
And he fails entirely to mention a job he took just this past November for the Las Vegas-based Olympia Group, to sell a casino to Oxford County Maine.

Poor Clyde. He's conflicted between his desire to be a respected policy analyst with a valuable opinion, and his need to continue in his role as an assiduous paid shill for the gambling industry.

Martha wasn't kidding when she said the public needs to know more about the people who want to put casinos in our backyards.


Speaking of which... next up is some guy named Charles A. Baker, Esq. who is a partner at some place called DLA Piper. I'm not sure what he's supposed to be here for today, but his corporate bio tells us that
“He advises a wide variety of clients, including major hotel corporations, real estate developers, communication companies, and a thoroughbred racetrack.”
(Well of course he is. You'd be hard pressed to score an invite to this hearing if you didn't have some sort of connection to a thoroughbred racetrack)
But wait! In addition to his responsibilities at Piper, Baker is also a member of the Dewey Square Group. (In fact, he's a founder!) And according to his corporate bio there,
“since the firm’s beginning in 1993, Baker has focused on the development of public strategies, the building of successful grassroots coalitions and the analysis of public law/policy issues.”
And you'll never guess - one of the those “grassroots coalitions” appears to be none other than the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, Inc. which sent a letter to it's membership last year informing them that,
“The New England HBPA has been working with representatives of the Dewey Square Group to put together a grassroots campaign to further the cause of horsemen and thoroughbred racing during the upcoming legislative debates. Dewey Square Group and they are helping Suffolk Downs with grassroots activities.”
And ...
“a recent report by gaming expert Clyde Barrow from UMASS Dartmouth has suggested Suffolk Downs as a site for resort-style gaming. As a dedicated participant in thoroughbred racing with an interest in the track’s success, we want to let you know how the new Suffolk Downs’ ownership team has told us that it envisions its future.”
And according to this 2008 article in the Boston Globe:
Baker is also a longtime lawyer for Suffolk Downs and has helped lead their bid for a casino license, hoping the Legislature approves the proposal by Governor Deval Patrick to allow up to three casinos in Massachusetts. Baker was part of Suffolk's four-member team that presented their casino plans to Patrick administration officials in July.
So let me see if I've got this straight. While working at DLA Piper, Baker advised a “thoroughbred racetrack”, while his other company, Dewey Square Group, was representing the track workers who were busy quoting the infamously quotable Clyde Barrows, and incidentally he is the longtime lawyer for Suffolk Downs who apparently was helping Deval make up his mind about casinos last year.

And check out what I found at Baker's BizJournal page!

Baker's ties to the thoroughbred racing world are so incestuous that if he married a horse – their kids would have three eyes.

And yet today, according to the agenda provided by Spilka's office, Baker, who ironically once authored a publication called, “The Conflict of Interest and Lobbying Laws" is prepared to give the good senators a “Regulation Models Overview”.

But thanks to Gardner's dim acoustics and the people behind me who won't shut up - all I can make out from his presentation was that New Jersey and Nevada have the 'gold standard' of gaming regulation models. And that both are “very expensive”.

Hey maybe Therese Murray will offer to pay for ours.
The Back Straight

In the meantime, the media is fleeing, and therefore will conveniently miss (and fail to report upon) upcoming presentations by two experts in what everyone likes to call the “social impacts” of gambling.

The first of whom is Hans Breiter, MD, director of the Laboratory for Neuroimaging and Genetics at Mass. General Hospital.

He is the brain scan guy.

Breiter's research has “demonstrated that gamblers at slot machines show increased blood flow in the same brain areas where cocaine produces a surge in dopamine-the transmitter that carries neural messages relating to pleasure and pain”. He's also been part of studies to find a drug that will “diminish the urge for gambling.”

But I'm keeping my eye on him.

Earlier this decade Breiter participated in a study to determine “how the human brain responds to the anticipation and reward of money” which was funded by “National Center for Responsible Gaming” (NCRG) to the tune of $175,000

Holy craps, Batman!

Just so you know, whenever you read or hear someone use the term “gaming” you know they're part of “the industry.”

Doctors like Breiter, social services folks, and anyone else who's seen a life destroyed by 'gaming' knows there's nothing fun about it. If you lose a game of tennis to your neighbor, they're not going to come take away your house.

And so, it disturbs me today is that most of these legislators, including Spilka, are referring to it as 'gaming'.

(Because whenever a legislator stops calling it “gambling” and starts referring to it as “gaming” - somewhere out there, a casino lobbyist gets his wings.)

According to it's website,
“the NCRG is the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) affiliated charity”
and that
“more than $22 million has been committed to the NCRG, through contributions from the casino gaming industry, equipment manufacturers, vendors, related organizations and individuals. Research funding is distributed through the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders.”
Senator Morrisey (D – Quincy) gets up leaves while Breiter is speaking. It's lunch time and brains can wait.

I have absolutely no idea how people are chosen for the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, but Morrisey, a fervent gambling proponent perhaps better known for his bill to ban male circumcision, is an incomprehensible choice - unless it was solely to plant him there so that he could rubber stamp a gambling bill. Which it may well have been.

And that should be a crime. Here's a committee which could help dig our State out of a hole and guide it toward a brighter future. It should be packed with visionaries. Or at least smart people.

At a Nov. 2008 union-packed casino debate in New Bedford, Morrisey spoke with absolute authority about the 'inevitability' of both Indian casinos in Middleboro and Massachusetts - revealing he hadn't done a lick of research on the subject. Oh and surprise – he was wrong.

But back to Breiter, who is saying something interesting: Say a guy walks down one side of the street and finds a $1 dollar bill. He's going to feel good. But say another guy, walking down the other side of the street finds a $20 dollar bill. They both 'won' – but the guy holding the buck feels gypped.

That's one of the things that keeps a gambler playing. He thinks – jeez if he'd just done something different he could have had the big payoff. So he starts to “chase” the big payoff he knows must be out there.

Breiter goes on to show scans of brains of “normal” people, along with scans of people addicted to various substances and activities such as cocaine and slot machines. And sure enough – the coke scans match up with the slot scans. Breiter says he can't tell the difference between them. He also refers to it “cocaine expectancy” and “monetary expectancy”. He talks about the creation of structural abnormalities in the brain. Some that can be fixed and some that can't.

He talks for a long time, about a lot of things like risk factors and free will and slippery slopes. But in the end, insists his presentation is about 'models' and that to the brain, the 'gaming' model is basically the same as the drug mode.

Senator Tucker asks him if he knows about Dr. Natasha Schull of MIT, who has done a lot of research on slot machines, and found that they are designed to make players play as long and as fast as possible – in fact – to “play to extinction”. An actual industry term.

Well of course Breiter has heard of Dr. Schull!

He doesn't say it, so I will - Schull's omission on this panel is a red flag. Her research connects the dots which prove that by getting involved with gaming, States are sponsoring (and encouraging) addiction.

Breiter then launches into a discussion about how a lot of development occurs in the brain between the ages of 12 and 25, and how actually this group is a very susceptible population. Further, he reveals that as a teenager he was personally in favor of legalizing marijuana – but that as an adult doing research on those who take drugs, he discovered how drugs thin the cortex and effect the part of the brain which controls planning. And apparently this is a bad thing.

Trying to draw an accruate correlation for the committee Breiter then offers what becomes the bombshell statement of the day:
“If you're thinking about legalizing gambling...you may as well think about legalizing drugs.”
(But only if they also plan on collecting revenue from it, Doctor.)

The Steeplechase

Next up is Dr. Robert Goodman, who says he's taught Public Policy, Economic Development and Environmental Design at Hampshire College and is author of “The Luck Game”, though his Hampshire College bio says he is a professor of Environmental Design - so I don't know. Maybe he should update that.

There are three arguments, Goodman says right off, in favor of legalizing gambling in Massachusetts:

1.) We're losing money to Connecticut
2.) The revenue will boost our economy
3.) It's just another form of entertainment.

But according to his book
“The luck business is a business where PhD's write about treating neurophysical disorders of addicted gamblers, while others research behavior modification techniques that will encourage more people to gamble. It is backed by state-of-the-art marketing and ever-fresh enticements – where mathematicians develop new games, “themeing” consultants develop mythical dream worlds and demographic experts develop segmentation surveys to target the socioeconomic profiles of potential players.”
He'll get no argument from me. These are exactly the wacky things I've learned about the 'gaming' industry since nearly becoming a victim of it.

As for #1 on his list – yes, legalizing gambling in our state would “re-capture” that revenue, but will also increase pathological gambling and the amount of gambling.

For example, when Pennsylvania introduced casinos, slot parlors and racinos, pathological gambling increased – plus it created more competition for consumers between the surrounding states.

Hey look... Morrisey's back from lunch.

Goodman also reveals that States are reluctant to do Before and After studies regarding the effects of casinos. However, one State – Iowa – one of the first states to legalize gambling, did. Before the casinos, 1.7% of the population were problem gamblers. Three and a half years later, that figure had more than tripled to 5.4%.

Louisiana, one of the most gambling-saturated states in the nation, has ten casinos as well as slots at the racetracks, bars and truck stops. Not surprisingly, the governor who introduced legalized gambling to the state was later convicted on 17 of 26 counts, including racketeering, extortion, money laundering, mail fraud, and wire fraud. In Louisiana today, 7% of the population are problem gamblers.

Goodman speaks about some of the things that come along with problem gambling, like bankruptcy, foreclosure, suicide... and while he does I abscently glance across the auditorium – only to witness a blonde woman in a smart pastel suit - smiling.

I make a quick sketch of her in my notebook, adding a pair of horns, pitchfork and a bifurcated tail.

Meanwhile Goodman is getting in dig in at Barrows and the term 'gaming'.

“By the way..." he mentions, "not to many people kill themselves over the Red Sox. That's a game.”

He tells us that not only is the cost per problem gambler to the State is $13,000, but if we have casinos in Massachusetts, more people will gamble here – not just the ones who travel now to Connecticut – and so that's discretionary income that would likely have been spent on other things at Massachusetts businesses. In fact, most business owners don't want casinos.

There are costs to the gambler, costs to the State, costs to local in-State businesses. Even costs to the lottery.

And apparently there are costs to democracy, too. Goodman describes how more money was spent lobbying for casinos in Pennsylvania than on anything else in it's history. As a direct result, demands by the public for a casino referendum vote in Philadelphia were refused. So much for the voice of the people.
Goodman, who admits here to being a gambler – a casino goer and a fan of card games - concludes his presentation by stating that gambling doesn't solve problems, but it does cause a lot of problems.

But wait, says Morrisey – don't we already have these problems now, thanks to Connecticut? We have to pay for them already, don't we? But... if we have a new revenue stream, we can pay for it!

There follows a very pregnant pause as Goodman struggles to comprehend, as many of us have, how this guy actually got on this committee. Rock, paper, scissors?

“Yeah, but we'll have more addiction too!”

But it's no use. To people like Morrissey, gambling addiction may as well be athlete's foot. Got a problem? Just go down to CVS and pick something up for it.
While his heart may go out to Bay State infants and their endangered foreskins, Morrissey's empathy stops at the door for those gambling addicts generated for public profit, whose lives will be torn apart, bank accounts emptied, families broken, children hurt, trust destroyed, and hope taken.

Senator Stanley Rosenberg, hand-picked by Senate President Therese "Ka-ching" Murray to head up the whole expanded 'gaming' issue
asks Goodman, how it is possible that, if there are 37 States with some form of gambling, how can the national addiction rate be 1.4%?

Goodman responds that less than 1% of the US population has a drug problem – but that 1% causes a lot of problems. That drug addiction also costs the taxpayers a lot of money.

But I'm chugging away on this because it's an interesting question, so I'll try to answer it, too. A possible explanation might be that fresh national statistics aren't yet available for States with newer gambling legislation – like Pennsylvania and Maryland, and that a lot of casinos – especially tribal ones - are located in remote locations with lower populations.

Additionally, those 37 states all have some form of gambling - such as resort casinos, riverboat casinos, racinos, slot parlors, or a combination thereof - but not all of those 37 states have the same number of gambling outlets.

A few States, like New Jersey, Nevada, California and Michigan have many thousands of slot machines (not to mention higher taxes) while other States have many fewer. The entire State of Texas, for example, has only one casino- a tribal one – and it only features class II slots. And, at least 13 States have none.

(But hey, Senator, with your help, I have no doubt that the densely populated State of Massachusetts can kick that percentage right up!)

Goodman ends by making a point which has been made here before. When you switch from being a regulator to a promoter – exactly who is doing the regulation? All previous legislation regulating “gaming”, he says, goes out the window when the State isn't making enough revenue.

Yes, it does.

In pursuit of more revenue, New Jersey repealed a smoking ban that had put in place to protect casino workers. In California they lowered the gambling age to 18. Midwest riverboat casinos, originally intended to float down the river and return patrons after a set time, became 'boats in a moat' – full-fledged permanently-docked casinos sitting in a foot of water. States have also abandoned formerly imposed wagering or loss limits. In Iowa and Illinois measures like these have “partly resulted in existing gamblers losing more money as opposed to increasing the number of gamblers.” A push by “officials looking to help solve Connecticut's multibillion-dollar deficit” to extend liquor hours to 24/7 in Connecticut was cut short only after a patron leaving Mohegan Sun plowed into a van full of college students, killing one of them.

wait just one minute...
Doesn't Connecticut host two of the World's largest casinos? And isn't that where all of our State's gambling dollars - the one's we're supposed to re-capture with expanding gambling - are supposedly ending up? So ok, maybe Senator Rosenberg can explain how the State of Connecticut could possibly be in such a hole with all that money that that they'd actually consider legalizing 24/7 drinking at two of the world's largest casinos?

And does that mean Massachusetts would go down that road too?

And where, exactly, does that road end?

The Home Stretch

Goodman exits and is replaced with none other than the smiling she-devil in the smart pastel suit. Her name is Jennifer Lendler and seriously, when I was looking on-line for a picture of her, this is the first one that came up.

And that's just the way she likes it. Unlike Barrows, Lendler has no issue revealing her chosen profession or her actual employers.

First thing out of the gate, she tells us that she's got 17 years in the 'gaming' industry - having been personally recruited for this singular honor by Harrahs Entertainment. But then, perhaps smiling at the misfortune of others was a dead give away that Jennifer had the right stuff for the 'gaming industry'.

She is Vice President of Gaming Operations for Coastal Development, which according to it's website,
strives to create full service, family friendly entertainment venues and casino gaming properties.

Since its inception, Coastal Development projects have included the co-development of the Hard Rock Seminole Casinos with locations in both Tampa and Hollywood. The Hard Rock Seminole Casino Resorts, which opened in early 2004, are among the most successful in North America.

In addition, Coastal is currently working to revitalize New England's only thoroughbred race track, Suffolk Downs.
(Heck, who isn't?)

Last year Coastal's big project was rebranding an Atlantic City casino as "Margaritaville at the Marina".

(I don't know about you, but I wouldn't take my family - which includes children - to any of these places.)

And, in addition to revitalizing it, they have an actual tab (a tab!) on their website dedicated to Suffolk Downs. When you click it, you will read that
In Spring 2007, a Coastal Development affiliate, became the largest shareholder in Sterling Suffolk Downs, a historic thoroughbred racetrack in Boston, Massachusetts.

Whoa, Nelly!

But wait... I noticed a picture of little children dressed in Santa's hats on the website's front page and another page entitled "giving" to let you know that they are affiliated with the Fields Foundation - which donates lots of money to all sorts of good causes,

(wait for it...)

and which is run by none other than CEO and chairman of Coastal Development, Richard Fields!
In Spring 2007, Richard Fields, through an affiliate, became the largest shareholder of Sterling Suffolk Downs
(That's it. Color me cynical.)

Back at the microphone, Jen assures us that there are now 20 years worth of case studies to rely on for accurate information about the 'industry'. In fact, she beams, there are, right now, 375,000 employees working in non-tribal casinos.

Actually, according to the Mothership, (the 2009 American Gaming Association Survey of Casino Entertainment) those employees actually number 357,314, and that 202,200 of them are in Nevada, that another 38,600 of them are in New Jersey (down 5.4% from the previous year), with 29,000 in Mississippi (down 6% and the poorest state in the U.S.) and 17,000 in Louisiana (down 4.1% with a 7% gambling addiction rate to boot!)

But no matter, Gambling, oh wait, 'Gaming' is just the same as any industry. And they need to do the same things as other companies need to do to succeed. These are:
  • Drive visitation
  • Create a product
  • Serve the customer well and hope they return
  • Provide multiple product offerings
And that's why Jennifer likes casinos better than slot parlors. They employ more people, she says, because they have more labor intensive jobs – like table dealers.

Which Jennifer won't tell you is one of the lowest paid jobs in America.

But she does make clear is that the casino tax rate drives capital! And casinos which offer table games are more popular with the consumer than ones without!

And then Jennifer admits that “the local customer is your target customer”, and that current trends point to a market slow down – but only because people have to fly to Nevada. She is quick to assure us that Atlantic City is doing OK.

(Obviously. Which is why casino employment is down 5.4% and they reversed the smoking ban to bring in more customers.)

And Rhode Island? Well, naturally Twin Rivers failed for one reason – it's tax rate was too high.

Don't believe her? Just look at Maryland - with a 67% tax rate on casino revenue they can't find enough bidders to reach their golden goal of 15,000 slot machines.

Therefore, boys and girls, the moral of the story is to make your tax rate LOW so that casinos and slot parlors can thrive and serve you better!

That's right. Turns out that those big fat tax rates waved like big juicy carrots to voters and legislators while they're trying to weigh the costs and benefits of legalizing slots in their respective states, are too high.

Tax rate effects capital investment, which drives everything including job creation!

Apparently, the table game bone is connected to the tax rate bone which is connected to the capital investment bone which is connected to the job creation bone - which the 'gaming' lobbyist tosses to the labor unions and legislatures whenever the greed bone wants to build a new casino.

And, in case we still have trouble understanding this complicated relationship, she very clearly states that Casinos are the best!

(You know - like Harrahs Entertainment!)

And that Low Tax Rates are the best!
And seriously, the 'industry' loves big strong regulation - as long as they have that low tax rate.

Don't forget about the low tax rate. Did you forget? Let me remind you – LOW TAX RATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh and by the way, what we really need are CREDIT FRIENDLY MARKETS.

(What? Like the ones that created the need for a bailouts and stimulus packages?)


My head hurts. I feel like I've just been taken on a new ride at Disney called the Rotating Roulette Wheel of Casino Influence.

The Closer

Thankfully this ends the ride presentation, and Jennifer's chair is filled by a bankerish gent whose presentation I've been awaiting as one would a third ghost on Christmas Eve.

So no, I don't have a graphic.

For, though my preliminary research on John Grogan, Managing Director of Corporate Finance Advisors revealed that he apparently “has a broad range of experience in corporate finance and an extensive network of contacts in the capital markets”, in fact, it would appear that Corporate Finance Advisors is the something of the Men in Black of the finance world.

I had to hunt around for a while just for a web site, which turned out to be oddly vague, then a week later, I couldn't find the site at all – just a Go Daddy “under construction page” registered to Grogan - though an 'about us' wiki page tells us that “CFA is a middle market investment banking firm, specializing in transaction sizes of $5 to $50 million in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, private placements, leveraged buyouts, financial advisory assignments and valuations”

As of this writing, the website is still missing.

So how'd Spilka's office find this guy? And why is he here while no one from an anti-slots group was even invited?

And come to think of it - why does it seem practically everyone has some connection to Suffolk Downs?? Maybe this Grogan guy is actually Bob DeLeo's accountant or dry cleaner or something...

Shortly into Grogan's presentation it becomes evident that he is merely a less blonde and perky version of Jennifer Lendler because like her, they both weave a story about how we, the State of Massachusetts can help the 'gaming industry' help us.

In capital markets, ultimately, risk is measured in time while performance is measured in reality. But the recession reduced expectations and capital markets became risk averse.

“The Commonwealth will become the biggest stakeholder in the 'gaming' business.”

And, as a stakeholder you will be asked to solve problems as they arise.

Another non-lobbyist and I share an eye roll across the aisle.

A chart pops up on the screen which shows steadily increasing revenue from 'gaming' from 1994 to 2008. And then, in 2009, we see a slight drop. It looks something like this:

But according to Grogan, that dip is only a flesh wound. The recession isn't effecting the racinos and we are overreacting to this drop in revenue and that the industry is actually very resilient.

Wait a minute... resilient? Twin Rivers management wants to jettison it's racing component altogether, have the State significantly reduce it's tax rate, and stay open 24 hours a day. Sounds more like a complete, good old, Madonna-quality 'reinvention' to me.

How then, Grogan asks, does a company like Twin Rivers go bankrupt? Why, because it's largest stakeholder, THE STATE, did not help solve it's problems.

Honestly, how can this guy can sleep on his 600 thread count sheets at night?

So there you have it, folks. The State of Rhode Island, it's voters, it's legislators, decided the cost of expanding 'gaming' would be “X”, and the industry agreed to pay it. Then, the second there was a dip in the revenue to 2007 levels – not even a big dip - the industry went looking for a bailout.

Now it says, “X” is too much. What they really need is “Y”, preferably “Z”. And if they don't get it - they and the revenue stream they rode in on - the same one that RI has since become dependent on - are out of there.

And it's all the State's fault. It's a bad Stakeholder.

Bad, naughty stakeholder.

Finish Line

I cannot believe the same State which is home to both Harvard and MIT is even considering opening the door to this vampire of an industry.

But then, you don't have to be smart to be a legislator.

When you hear that there's enough votes to pass 'gaming' right now, you know what that really means? That means there's enough stupid greedy legislators in office all set to grab our State by the throat and pull it down with them into their stupid little greed holes.

Expanded gambling doesn't make sense to anyone who really cares about our State and the people who live there. Not financially and not socially. It's a suckers bet and always has been. It doesn't solve financial problems, but it does create crime and social problems. It's expensive to regulate and it puts too much control in the hands of casino investors.

In ancient Rome the depraved emperor Caligula put a toga on his favorite horse and threatened to make him a Senator. In modern day Massachusetts, Senators threaten us with slot machines and listen to horse racing interests instead of doctors.

The day wraps up with promises of even more literal dog and pony shows informational hearings yet to come – which will no doubt all be held at actual thoroughbred racetracks.

(Blinders optional.)

So don't forget to bring a carrot or a sugar cube, ladies and gentlemen, and in the meantime - watch your step - the horse manure is really piling up.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Day

This July 4th, a baby was injured by some stray fireworks which were being set off in a Worcester baseball field.

In the 90's I was at Plymouth Harbor watching the fireworks display when someone a few hundred feet away set off some off some illegal fireworks into the crowd badly injuring a five year old boy.

A man I used to work with bore burn scars on his face, arms and chest from setting off fireworks when he was a teenager.

And as a child growing up in Middleboro in the 70's, it was common knowledge that you took your life into your hands wading through the drugged-out firecracker crowd at the annual town display.

I have a lot of stories like that. A lot of people do. Google "fireworks injuries" if you think I'm lying.

According to Mass General's web site:

Both sparklers and firecrackers have the potential to entertain. But, when they are misused or some type of mishap occurs, they have the ability to harm severely or kill. On average, every year, more than eight thousand people are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to fireworks. About fifty percent of these are burns involving the head, eyes or hands. There are also instances in which a fireworks accident has resulted in a profound loss of hearing and/or blindness. It has been estimated that one-third of such injuries to the eyes result in permanent blindness. Approximately seven percent of firework injuries require hospitalization. It has been estimated that in the U.S. the annual cost of fireworks related injuries is one hundred million dollars. But fireworks do not only hurt people, they harm buildings. They have triggered life-threatening fires.

Massachusetts bans most kinds of fireworks, but that doesn't stop people from using them, getting hurt, and hurting others. In fact, people can just go across the border to New Hampshire and buy illegally, or even through catalogs and the Internet.

So let's see... something a lot of people consider entertaining, but which has the potential to cause harm, and which has a long recorded history of causing harm to the people engaged in using it, as well as the innocent, is illegal here in Massachusetts, therefore prompting many people to cross State lines in order to obtain it.

So, why aren't we here today, discussing the possibility of legalizing currently illegal and dangerous fireworks, collecting a certain percentage of the revenue, and using it to shore up our State budget?

Shouldn't our leadership accept responsibility for the safety of the Commonwealth's citizens, whether the potential injuries come from the burns associated with fireworks or from the impacts caused by gambling addiction - like child neglect and abuse, domestic abuse, bankruptcies, foreclosures, violent and white collar crime? And suicide?

Or is the only difference in the eyes of some legislators not the type of the potential injury, but the size of the potential payoff? A payoff that will quickly become absorbed into our budget - probably leading to more industry expansion?

Oh, and I should probably mention that the impacts from State-sponsored predatory gambling don't occur when "they are misused or some type of mishap occurs". They result when the consumer does exactly what the industry and slot proponents expect and count on them to do - "play to extinction."

So... I'm wondering if these Statehouse denizens will prove as independent as the great nation we celebrate every July 4th? Or merely the servile doormats of powerful and connected pro-slots legislators and the ubiquitous predatory-gambling lobbyists who love them.

This may be the land of the free - but is our Statehouse really a home of the brave?