Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let Them Eat Slots

Rosenberg said United to Stop Slots should commission its own independent study on costs. “Go do it,” he said. “But they have no intention of doing it.”
-- Senator Stan Rosenberg,
who recently used $100,000 in taxpayer funds to hire a
gambling company to perform a gambling benefits analysis report
Boston Herald, June 21, 2010
Hey, remember learning about the French Revolution and how it started partly as a result of the aristocracy being so out-of-touch with the common man?

Well, that's what comes to mind when I hear about gobs of taxpayer money going to fund a benefits-only study, or find out Suffolk Downs paid $100,000 for a pro-slots TV spot, or see a giant electronic billboard along Rte. 93 in Boston flashing "Casinos Now!  Jobs Now!".

It's also what comes to mind when I think about the only public hearing on this gambling bill, announced only 2 business days after the bill came out, so that the public was required to juggle their schedules, travel to the Senate's place of business, watch the Ways and Means Committee put casino developers, racetrack owners and paid lobbyists ahead of members of the public, people who'd showed up early, signed in first, and sat politely through hours of individual testimony that lasted way longer than the allotted 3 minutes, only to be gaveled and chastised when they themselves barely crossed over the three minute mark.  Or worse - having to leave before they even got the chance to speak.

And it's certainly what comes to mind when I recall all the behind-closed-doors meetings, and this whole rush job of a process including the strange emergence of Stan-the-man Rosenberg, a guy with a somewhat unique sense of what constitutes an "independent" and "balanced" study,  and who somehow became the Senate's resident expert on casinos by, you guessed it, going to casinos.

At the Senate's hearing on this bill yesterday, Stan justified creating three casinos in Massachusetts because Mass gamblers are already bringing their problems home, and we don't have enough money to treat them.

Jeez, Stan - it's Casinos 101 - proximity creates more addiction. In Iowa, 1.7% of the population were problem gamblers. Three and a half years later, that figure had more than tripled to 5.4%.  In Louisiana it's now 7%.  Before Hollywood Slots came to Maine, calls to the National gamblers hotline were zero - last year they totaled 1,263 - and remember these are just the people that seek help.  Those are NEW problems gamblers, and their problems don't stop at the mirror - they effect their family and friends and co-workers. 

Stan prides himself on going all over creation to study casinos - he looks - but he only sees what he wants.  He insists the process has been open and transparent.  But, unless you've been sitting in on those numerous legislative closed door sessions - this process has been murky and secretive, and inexplicably comes with a lot of back patting and self congratulation. 

And that's the power of Kool-Aid, baby!

I'm also not sure where a comment like Stan's, seemingly disparaging USS-Mass for not doing it's own study comes from, but it doesn't make me feel any more comfortable about his ability to understand both sides of this issue . 

USS-Mass is an all volunteer organization comprised of working-class citizens.  Some of us have been in the trenches for over three years.  We work endless hours, hunt down the facts, do the math and provide all our time, energy, and resources for free - just to be gaveled after slogging through a seven hour hearing or for the last quote on the second page of a news article. And, unlike Stan we don't have access to an endless tap root of funds to create reports to tell us what we want to hear.

Funny thing is, Stan used to be solidly against casinos, that is, until Senate President Therese Murray personally hand selected him to be her point man on the issue.  Wink wink.  Nudge nudge.

Speaking of whom, whatever happened to that "clean slate"  T. Murray promised? Whatever happened to "doing it right"?   Right for who? The gambling industry?

But then, maybe it's all too much to ask of our leadership.  Maybe that fact that the casino lobby sprinkled $20 M in influence on their cereal last year, or the knowledge that they can write a check on the taxpayer dime to an out-of-state company for a worthless study and still get away with it, makes them think they're... well... different.

Or maybe it's our Governor, who hobnobs with gambling industry big-wigs, blurring perhaps the truth that while gambling expansion has never helped any state out of a financial deficit, it will irreparably hurt the hundreds of thousands of Mass. citizens he represents.  But, then, how can a mom from Palmer or a Fall River small business owner compete with a private conversation between millionaires on the the 14th green?  Let's be fair.

Speaking of being fair, I've had a couple of people criticize me recently for insisting that Martha Coakley didn't go far enough the other day, after this news making event:
In an unusual break with ally Senate President Therese Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley on Monday told senators that leadership’s  casino bill would “significantly limit law enforcement’s ability to protect the public” and urged them to strengthen the measure with House-backed language she had proposed last year. The bill headed to the floor Wednesday is too narrow, Coakley said, because language restricting prosecution to activities directly affecting gaming creates a loophole “that would allow many significant criminal players … to avoid prosecution and continue to threaten public safety.” In a letter delivered to senators Monday and obtained by the News Service, Coakley used the example of a prostitution ring in a town neighboring a casino. She said the ring’s leader could escape prosecution because the activity could be considered not directly affecting gaming. “The Senate gaming proposal limits the tools that law enforcement needs to get these bad actors off the streets so that legitimate business opportunities can flourish,” Coakley wrote. She asked senators to adopt the “enterprise crime amendment” filed by Sen. Steven Baddour.
--State House News
The fact is, it took a former AG to embarrass our current AG into finally, and even then only into marginally, doing her job. And yet, I was told me that I should be actually be happy about this - that this was a "big deal for Martha?"  Their exact words.

So ok.  When exactly did the bar slip so low in this State that we should all be referring to a sitting AG as if she's a 4 year old who finally made boom-boom in the potty after 2 years of constant pleading and encouragement.

Martha Coakley should be against casino-related crime, dammit.  Because it creates casino-related crime-victims, that's why. We elected her to prevent crime victims,  not to be another high-paid bureaucrat with a law degree.

But no.  Instead, our AG "asked senators to adopt the 'enterprise crime amendment' filed by Sen. Steven Baddour" - which is hack speak for "I'm afraid that this is a bare-minimum requirement for me to save face over my otherwise ill-handling of this issue due to my close personal relationship with Therese Murray.  I wish I didn't have to inconvenience you with this, but as you can see, I'm getting a lot of heat, and frankly the whole things sort of reminds me of being forced to go shake hands with voters over at Fenway when I'd much rather be in my La-Z-Boy watching a movie on Lifetime."

Not to be out done, Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanag Tribe has also been inconvenienced. When he discovered that the Senate's bill left out a provision for a Tribal casino, he railed,
"The poor Indian tribe is getting it stuck to us again."
Yeah that blows.  Now, instead of being sovereign casino bazillionaires, Cromwell's 1,500 member middle-class Cape Cod tribe will have to subsist on the paltry multi-million dollar scraps of tax-free federal aid the government throws their way every year.

But Cromwell won't have long to suffer.  If slots are legalized in MA, the tribe will go to congress (by the way, this would happen even if they won a commercial casino license) and say, "we are the tribe that met the Pilgrims and we can't even get a casino! This is an outrage. We are a sovereign nation!  We have our rights.  If slots are legal in a state then tribes can have them on their land.  Give us land so we can compete with fair economic advantage!  Did we mention we're the tribe the met the Pilgrims?!"

At some point there will be a Congress that will give them land, and the state will undoubtedly sign a compact, having sold it's backbone for 3 destination resort casinos.

Alternatively, Congress will not give them the land.  And so, this notoriously litigious Tribe will once again go to court - where they will win - because there is already ample precedent for victory for federally recognized tribes in states with casinos.  Only Texas has kept tribes from establishing casinos -  because it simply has not legalized slots and it refuses to be forced to sign a compact with it's federally recognized tribe.  Slot machines have actually been removed from tribal lands in Texas.

Having gone down this road, the Tribe won't have to follow typical federal regulations involving land in trust or existing environmental guidelines, and their casino could potentially go anywhere - no doubt somewhere with excellent highway access and existing infrastructure - and preferably in Northhampton, next door to Stan Rosenberg so he can stare in rapture at it  while sucking on his Kool-Aid hookah pipe.

The Aquinnah, not to be outdone will follow, using the Mashpee as a precedent. This process could go quickly, or it could take 20 years, but it will happen unless major changes in Federal Indian Law are made.  The one sure thing you can count on is that Mass. Taxpayers will fund this and future litigation for decades to the tune of millions. 

And all because Bob DeLeo's dad was a maitre d' a Suffolk Downs restaurant.  A proud dad - but one who, unlike his son, doesn't underestimate the dangers of gambling or overestimate it's rewards.
Even though Al DeLeo loved the track, he recognized its dangers, to the point that he forbade his son from gambling. Robert DeLeo remembers one occasion when he bet on a horse, won, and bragged to his father.

“I was as proud as a peacock,’’ he said in a recent interview. “I said, ‘Hey, Dad, I won a race.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to lose too many. I don’t want to hear it. Don’t even go there, pal.’"
As D day spins closer we'll no doubt have to hear more from the loquacious Senator Pacheco (D - Raynham Dogtrack), who'll try to convince us that the Track is the economic engine of the South Shore - which never fails to remind me how, even back in it's heyday, twenty years ago, I couldn't convince my co-workers to go there after work - and it was literally right around the corner.   At the hearing it became obvious Sen. Pacheco was oblivious to the fact that UMass. Prof. Clyde Barrow had been exposed as an industry insider, putting his work on a pedestal again and again as better informed members of the audience rolled their eyes and twittered their amazement .  For three years casino and slot opponents have barraged Sen. Pacheco with calls and letters, only to be swatted away like flies at a picnic.

And from what I understand, Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstien, former horse track employee, and my personal favorite source of unintentional comedy, has been slated to be on the conference committee which will hash the nitty gritty of any proposed legislation. Which is only natural, since her bold championship of the Fluffernutter as the State's official sandwich, and recent comparison of gambling addiction to a Yankee Candles compulsion make her the obvious choice for a voice on legislation which will eventually hurt families, cost some people their lives and pave the way for new sovereign nations.

Did legislators really think 60 Minutes showed up at the public hearing to record their brilliance for posterity?

Therese Murray, the puppet master who's orchestrated this play for the past three years, has refused to meet with casino opposition at all.  Content to stroll the marble floors of the State House with her inner circle, she remains blissfully oblivious and hauntingly silent to their concerns. Ironically, I was living in Plymouth in 1992 when she first ran for Senate.  Figuring a woman would better represent women and families in the legislature and I gave her my vote.  How was I to predict that nearly 2 decades later, Murray would become a great champion of an industry that spawns bankruptcy, divorce, foreclosure, domestic abuse and child abuse and neglect wherever it goes.  Ka-Ching!

And then there's Deval.  Yesterday, the Sun King demanded "a good, fair comprehensive and thoughtful gaming bill and I want it by the end of the sesssion" - no doubt so that he can jet off on vacation - probably to whack golf balls off the roof of the Dubai Hilton, or soak up some of the French Riviera. Or maybe off once again to his book publishers - like he did in 2008, leaving the rest of us to endure a 15 hour hearing on the very issue that he ignited.

To be sure, Deval will get his gambling bill in time, but the train for fair, comprehensive and thoughtful has already left the station.

Having been a witness and part of this circus for the past 3 years, I already know that it's outcome is sure to be stranger than fiction, and have little to do with good policy. Deval will sign off on gambling legislation if, for no other reason, than he is doggedly determined, finally, to win this one - oddly oblivious to the fact that the gambling industry earns it's keep by making losers feel like winners.

At the moment, the legislature is writing yet another chapter in history that, when read at some later date, will leave people shaking their heads in disbelief with every turn of the page.  Why didn't they listen?  What was the rush?  Why didn't they just commission an independent review... What were they afraid of...  How did they get away with it?  Why did so many just go along...  Couldn't they see how bad the process was?

The truest tragedies of history don't get their start on the pages of a book, they happen in voting booths and under golden domes, at the hands of people who were convinced they were doing the right thing.

The people need jobs?  Well then,  "Let them eat slots!"


Middleboro Remembers said...

When I stop laughing, maybe I can post of comment beyond the usual -


After sitting in the Gallery and watching the Senate today, some of it's beyond decription, as you know.

Middleboro Remembers said...

Senator "Lap Dog" Resenberg's arms were again tired, as he praised the open and transparent process.

He assures "we'll do it right!" as the Senate considers Tribal Casinos they're too arrogant to seek advice on because they have convinced themselves they know everything, even as informed colleagues stand and offer the well researched facts.

Senator Spilka's bizarre comments need mention - especially the self-praise for the one-sided Love Fest she conducted. She assured herself that no one has ever disputed the job numbers. Oh? Guess it's easy to ignore that the phony numbers are just that.

My mother always said 'You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.'

Some in the Senate believe otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"we'll do it right!"
By whose standards? I'm worried.

Anonymous said...

After hearing the procedings, I now know for sure, it's all politics, dirty politcis at that.

My family will remember in Nov.

Anonymous said...

'nuf said.