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.


Anonymous said...

Well done and bravo!

Fat Chance! said...

In 1981, Burns said "It's going to happen."
Is he related to Scotty Fearsome and his "INEVITABILITY PROCLAMATION"?
Slots,casinos,racinos make less sense each day as the economy lags, the licenses are worth far less because people have less money to flush away.
Good article.Great blog as usual.Your continued attention to keep us focused is needed just as the 'boro cheerleaders pretend "We coming" Fat Chance!

Anonymous said...

Intuitively, people know expanded gambling is wrong and not just from a moral perspective.You're so right that now, we have the mountain of books, statistics and reports to prove what those pioneers knew.Having the courage to oppose something you know is just plain wrong, we can only express our appreciation that we didn't follow this path 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

So good you brought this old but important news out to light. How many knew this was happening not that far away in the 80's?? and it was defeated.

You are so right about your statement of "that casinos always come up when we the people begin to settle for low expectations instead of aiming for high ones"

Right on Gladys!, and I will wear my button always and be proud of it.

Anonymous said...

What a great article!
It's reassuring to know that WE won't be the first to fight and win and defeat expanded gambling.It can be done, has been in the past and will be again.

Raymond Tolosko said...

Frank gave me that Yankee article ~ 1 year ago. It's amazing how we re-lived years later, exactly what Hull had gone through. Same schtick....

I keep my NO CASINO button in my night stand, ready to use at a moment's notice.