Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breaking News: 4,000 Year Old Desiccated Egyptian Mummy and King Midas Explain How Gambling Can Save Humanity

When I first saw the enthusiastic Foxboro casino protesters on TV, the scene was so hauntingly familiar that I couldn't help but be reminded of the sign beside my front door.  It reads, "Welcome Friends".

I then made the following prediction:

This is their one day.

After that, they will be ignored by the media, which will focus only on the much more glamorous (albeit withered, sundried and botoxed) casino players (in this case Steve Wynn and Bob Kraft) and search out the most vocal folks in town who do want a casino - so as to create an exciting sense of conflict.

Then there will be talk of how much money the town can get.  Yay!  Money!  Who doesn't like money?!

And the excitement!  Newscasters will gush about the possibilities.  Every news outlet will create it's own clever attention-getting 'Foxboro Casino' graphic.

Then there will wild projections about how many jobs will be created.  How a casino will fit right into the community, provide the very manna from Heaven, and assurances that any potential negative effects, no matter how slim the possibility thereof, can be successfully mitigated by that supreme global humanitarian organization - the gambling industry.

The protesters will be quietly and progressively painted as anti-community and worse, anti-job creation.  They are moralists, while casino proponents are realists.  They will be reminded that a majority of Massachusetts residents approve of casinos, though no one will mention that this statistic is reversed when people are asked if they would approve of a casino in their own town.

But besides, it's not like we don't already have gambling here anyway.

Protesters will be accused of being hypocrites because they don't also use their limited resources to protest the lottery.

They will be forced to come up with solid numbers to defend every possible criticism, while their counterparts need only keep saying the words 'jobs' and 'money' to anyone who'll listen.

They will endure personal attacks by neighbors who mistakenly believe the gambling industry actually needs their help.

It will only be a matter of time before a guy named Clyde Barrow slithers into town, pretending to be neutral, but presenting inflated figures of the billions Foxboro can 'recapture' from Connecticut and Rhode Island, all  painstakenly gathered by counting licence plates on holiday weekends in casino parking lots.

At some point there will be some sort of scandal, perhaps even a criminal charge, but no matter, 'tis only a flesh wound, and the project will barrel on in spite of it.

Back in town, decision makers and local power brokers will be the recipients of vague promises whispered in their ears, and soon, headlines will tout that Foxboro is actually in favor of a casino.

By the time it comes down to a vote, the gambling industry will have quietly dropped so much of it's own manna from heaven in the form of propaganda that it will be difficult to cross the street without tripping over it.

The community will be torn in two.  Just like it was in Middleboro.

When it's over, the original protesters will still have their signs, ignored now by the TV cameras, and, tucked under their belts, the sad experience of knowing what it feels like to have a Governor, State Legislature, Attorney General, media and a once-kindly corporate benefactor pretend you don't exist.

And of attempting to participate in a democracy that only serves itself.

Gosh I hope I'm wrong.

Except... on the day of the protest the media did find one woman to say she didn't mind gambling so much.  That it would bring money to the town.  And besides, if you go to the schools and churches, you're gonna find it anyway.

Yes, of course, because church bingo is EXACTLY the same as a multibillion dollar predatory industry that buys political access, employs deceptive digital and ergonomic technology to reap the majority of it's profits, and can, with a single swipe of your credit card, gain access to your entire financial portfolio, then send over a free drink to encourage you to lose it.

The next day on TV they were interviewing some rosy-cheeked football spectators outside Gillette stadium for their point of view, which ranged from delighted to jubilant over the prospect of a free-drink-selling slice of Las Vegas a mere footbridge away.

There was no mention whether or not these folks were actually residents of Foxboro or nearby towns.

Then came the nauseating interview with Kraft and Wynn, elaborating on their plans to save the world through the fabulous, painless, odorless, risk-free, God-ordained gift of gambling.

They promised that the new casino wouldn't be one of those garish, neon-spattered monoliths you can find on the strip in Vegas, but more on the lines of an unobtrusive, cuddly, gentle little casino, nestled in the woodsy heart of the deepest forest where an Ewok might feel at home.

Or perhaps not unlike the gingerbread covered cottage stumbled upon by Hansel and Gretel.

Ah, another town, another poor bunch of folks getting steamrolled by promises, lies, ignorance, greed and neglect.

Just another day in Casino World, where it's all downhill from there.

Welcome Friends.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Thanks

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Good Fight

Gambling and politics is about winning or losing. Our Coalition is about doing the right thing, win or lose.
-- Tom Larkin, President
 United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts
April 2009

Gazing up Beacon Hill, it might as well be Kilimanjaro.

For some reason, Frank had dropped us off in the middle of Park Street, which tilts up toward the State House at what feels like a 45 degree angle, leaving Judy and me to hold what we now realize are the world's heaviest signs.

We were supposed to have a nice day for this event, but it's early.  Right now it's still dark and cold and drizzly and all of Boston is lacquered with a depressing coat of fog. Worse, for me anyway, today is what people with a chronic pain condition politely call, 'a bad day.'

Earlier this week my son and I had made the signs with six sheets of poster boards and a new pack of sharpies. I'd bought some tall wooden stakes to nail to the back, and Judy had volunteered her husband, a retired carpenter, to add some sturdy wood frames so they wouldn't curl up.

It sounded like a good at the time. And the signs do look great - but now each of them weigh about a ton. Maybe more. And they're all different sizes, making the bunch of them even more awkard and difficult to hold.

We tried putting them down on the sidewalk, but it wasn't much wider than the signs, and they were blocking pedestrians. Just then a cop car went by and we decided we couldn't chance it. The putting down and lifting up were worse than the holding on to, so we just stood there trying not to look as desperate as we are.  I try to hide the wince from Judy. Nobody needs a buzz kill.

We each call Frank about six times, but either his phone is off or he's parking the car in Worcester.  He should be back here by now.

I don't have the cell phone numbers of any other folks who might be here already. So I send a text message to a friend who's always early, a colleague with the brawn to carry maybe three of these signs up all by himself.

Need your help.

And, for the first time in about two years, he doesn't text me back. Which is how I learn he's not coming out anymore. He's done.

And why shouldn't he be? How many times can people learn how little their efforts translate into Beacon Hill currency before they give up? You only get noticed if you're part of a crowd. You'll only be recognized if you're wealthy or well positioned. And you'll only be listened to, it seems, if you if you can do something for them.

It's been getting harder and harder to get people to come out.  I've got some 'maybes' for today, and I'm grateful for that.  I know it's hard to juggle life.  Thank God for Judy and Frank.   I think it's coming down to us. Even so, I've told them I'm done at the end of June - of course, before June we have about a million things to do. Seems like it, anyway.

It's been a good stretch. A year and a half more than I thought it'd be. Now I'm tired, I'm sick. Let someone else do it.

We don't even have the luxury of broadcasting our events to get more people here. We have to get the word out over the network, or else the union will call out the troops, all in matching t-shirts and lunch vouchers, to shout us down.

And if not the unions, then the flying monkeys - the squadron of fellow locals motivated more by venom and vendettas than a social conscience - all frothed up and seething on comment sections and message boards to anyone who'll listen.

But you have to believe you can make a difference, don't you? I mean, what's the alternative?

So I stick around, I show up, I beg people to come out, and, I guess, l carry some heavy-ass signs up a perpendicular sidewalk when they don't.   Just another adventure in activism.

A guy walks by with his hands in his pockets, glances up at our signs, and gives me a look that says he'd rather be giving me the finger.

In the last two years, if there was ever a moment I thought I could just quit, just drop it all and go back to my old life, to leave the whole damn thing in the rearview mirror, it was that one.

But I know someone's waiting up there on the Hill for us. And I think, hey, maybe this is the one that'll do it. This is the one.

So I hand Judy four of the signs, and help prop her up against a parking meter, then take the remaining two under my arm. The pain is unreal. It slices me in two. But what choice do I have?

This started out being about a casino.  Now it's about so much more.  It's about what's right and wrong.  About whether you fight or you give up.  It's about letting the greedy stupid bastards with all the money and power push you aside, or showing them that, even if they do, you're never, ever, going away.

Just then, on the sidewalk at the top of the hill, through the fog and the gloom, is a familiar silhouette. The silhouette of someone who's never come out with us before, someone who I'd asked, but didn't think actually would.

But there she is. And sure, she's a senior citizen with her own chronic pain condition - but hey, I can work with that.

In my world, one person can still make a difference.

And usually does.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Together We Scam!

While experts from MIT and Harvard have testified repeatedly at legislative gambling hearings about the potential for addiction engineered into today's slot machines - touched on earlier this year in an episode of 60 Minutes - a colleague who works in the field of Business Intelligence recently shared a letter he wrote to Governor Patrick explaining other predatory practices the gambling industry employs to separate slot players from their money.

Keep in mind that slot machines account for two-thirds of casino revenue.

Like many other industries, the gambling industry collects information about their existing and potential customers to increase sales, encourage customer loyalty, develop marketing strategy etc.  However, because casinos are 'financial institutions', they
have access to all of an individual's financial information. They leverage this specialized status and "loyalty programs" to gain specific knowledge about how much cash and credit a patron has access to, when they use their credit cards in the casinos. The industry calls this Total Cash Availability.

Additionally, they will also be able to find out how much equity a patron has in their home, car and other assets; this is called Global Cash Availability. These can and will be taken as equity in exchange for credit. Casinos will also extend what amount to payday loans at high interest rates. These will be offered to patrons who are under the influence of alcohol, alcohol, that the casinos will be able to offer free of charge.

The casino industry uses all of this information along with real-time game-play data to make targeted offers to specific people. They are also able to alter the payout rate and the "near-misses" seen by each person to increase their rate of play and the amount per play.
The letter provides three links which demonstrate "how the casino industry collects and uses the financial and game-play data to identify patrons who can be tapped for more revenue."

The first, GCA Casino Share Intelligence
shows that casinos have access to all of your financial information as well as transactions outside of the casinos as soon as you use your credit or ATM card in one of their machines.
The second is a promotional page for GameVIZ Software 
which brags about this software's ability to identify "the most profitable customers and those which can be 'tapped' for additional revenue and profit." This software identifies these gamblers while they are playing and helps identify them for promotions. This software targets people to ply with free liquor.  It is not a random offering.
The third is a link to a patent for a method and system for dynamically awarding bonus points
which describes in detail how machines can be dynamically reconfigured to generate more revenue while they are being played by increasing the rate of play and reducing payouts.

Let me be clear. The methodology is as follows:

1. The casinos identify their patrons and prospects according to their potential value to the casino.

2. The casinos monitor the play of those patrons and determine when to offer them free alcohol to maximize their spend on the games.

3. The casinos then dynamically alter the speed at which the machines play and the rate at which they pay out to increase the profit they are making on a specific player.

4. When the player has exhausted his or her resources on hand, the casinos extend them credit.
While it's convenient to dismiss gambling as a mostly harmless form of entertainment, effecting only a small percentage of people, fact is, the gambling industry is increasingly engaging in furtive, predatory practices that can quickly deplete an individuals or an entire family's financial resources, for substantial profit - a large chunk of which it will share with the State.

It's not like putting the milk at the back of the supermarket to get people to buy more Captain Crunch.

After everything Americans have endured at the hands of corporate predators in preceding years, is it really advisable for our State to partner with them at this stage in the game?  In an age when people have mobilized in outrage over debit card fees, imagine how they'd feel about the State-sanctioned shell game casino billionaires get to play with our bank accounts.
All that this market fundamentalism is about is letting people's consciences off the hook. If the market is “just,” none of us is responsible for the havoc it may wreak. But the invisible hand of the market need not be free of ethical values, and ought not be. 
Deval Patrick wrote that, in his memoir.  And I couldn't agree more. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My iRobot Vacuum Cleaner is More Sentient than Greg Bialecki

I think this editorial in the Globe by Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts articulates one of the problems with Greg Bialecki, Deval Patrick's Secretary of Housing and Economic Development:
Now, in seeking to minimize his role in the gambling bill, Bialecki claimed in an interview that he was never Patrick’s “lead person’’ on casinos and instead describes himself as “the spokesperson for the administration’s position.’’ On the day that he testified, he said, he was handed “a three-page document’’ that was “prepared by others, without my input.’’

He paints a damning picture, both of his own lack of sensitivity to appearances, and of an administration that appears to be so committed to its gambling deal with legislative leaders that it would put words in the mouth of its own secretary of housing and economic development.

If Bialecki doesn’t know what’s going on with his personal finances or what’s going into the public policy he promotes, maybe he isn’t the best person for the job of secretary of housing and economic development..
Unless by "best person for the job" you mean "mouthpiece for the gambling industry", and by "economic development" you mean "an unvetted economic policy that has never solved any state deficit, has already opened the door to political corruption here in Massachusetts, and is poised to trigger a gambling arms race to the bottom here in New England," then... yeah.  Definitely.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Attack of the 50 foot Egos

This year's recipient of the Stan Rosenberg Award for Unwarrented Hubris in a Legislative Role is none other than Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee)!

Wagner, who sits on the six-member gambling bill conference committee believes that a one-year ban on government officials from working in the gambling industry - which originally started as a five year ban - is still way too harsh, because:
“It’s my sense that this matter is so important that we should not preclude the best and the brightest from being eligible even if those people would be in government presently,”
Following this statement, the Committee once again quickly scurried to safety behind closed doors.

PhotobucketNot surprisingly, Stan Rosenberg, (D- Amherst) the senator for whom the Unwarrented Hubris award's was created, also serves on the committee, a prerequisite for which would appear to be narcissistic personality disorder.

Earlier this fall, during the Senate 'debate' on the gambling bill, an ammendment to create a five year ban on legislators from working in the industry compelled Rosenberg to notoriously argue that:
"passing such a no-revolving-door amendment would actually contribute to public cynicism about lawmakers by creating the impression that such a restriction was necessary to protect the public trust and ensure integrity.”
After convening that discussion behind closed doors, the Senate decided to drop the ban from five years to one.

It remains to be seen as to whether, following the current closed door session, the Conference Committee will, in the best interests of the industry, reduce the one-year ban even further and mandate legislators a guaranteed full year of casino employment upon leaving office, to include a lifetime pension and an automatic MacArthur Genius Fellowship.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Trickle Up

BOSTON – Both House and Senate leadership announced today that they've agreed to go back to work in order to add a new amendment to the same gambling bill which passed through both houses in the preceding months.

But in what is perhaps an odd coincidence, the announcement came directly on the heels of a Commonwealth Magazine op-ed which cited several studies which would indicate that expanded gambling disproportionally harms  minorities and the poor - "especially blacks and specifically black women" according to the op-ed.

Research suggests that while most people who gamble can do so without a problem - the majority of casino profits, to the tune of  70% – 90 % - are derived from patrons who are problem and pathological gamblers.

When asked about the timing of the amendment, the Senate's "casino-guru” Stanley Rosenberg (D – Irony) insisted that the amendment wasn't intended to take advantage of any particular demographic for the purpose of increasing revenue, but rather to provide what is obviously a popular entertainment attraction in regions of the state where they have been previously unavailable.

“Since most people can game responsibly, this amendment actually helps those members of the poor and minorities who might otherwise be unable to afford transportation to gaming opportunities in distant areas of the state” said Rosenberg.

Senate President Therese Murray responded to questions about the studies by stating that, “These studies are clearly elitist and don't show the whole story. This amendment has nothing to do with taking advantage of the poor and minorities. On reflection, senate leadership merely realized that casinos and slot parlors should ideally be located in areas where people have given up hoping for a job that pays a living wage."

When asked asked if he felt the studies were cause for concern, House Speaker Bob DeLeo dismissed the idea, stating that research also suggests that “rich white men have also been negatively impacted casinos... casino investors haven't been immune from the recession, you know.”

When asked to comment about the new amendment, Governor Patrick responded “I think it's a move in the right direction, one that actually offers more protection to the poor and minorities.”

Patrick, a self-professed practitioner of social justice, continued, “Locating casinos in predominately white or affluent neighborhoods across the state would just impact the poor and minorities even more. Look, we all know that they're the ones who'll be stopped and harassed by local police on their way home through the suburbs."

The Governor added, "I mean, it's bad enough to lose your shirt at a casino, but then to wind up with an expensive ticket or jail time - now that's a real economic hardship.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Back of the Bus

A salvo in the war on slots was fired the other day, and was, as usual, serially ignored by the Governor, the Mass. Legislature and the media.

Of course, if the news had been something positive about casinos and slot barns, the Governor would have mentioned it on a  talk radio program, the Mass. Legislature would have enshrined it as proof they had done due diligence, and, without a doubt it would have aired on the evening news along with stock footage of flashing lights, roulette wheels, and acres of slot machines.

In fact, if either Professor and part-time casino shill Clyde Barrow or his parent company, UMass Dartmouth had put their names on it, it would suddenly be considered a piece 'public policy'.

But no.  It was produced by a mere former State Attorney General and a cadre of  learned volunteers, and failed to paint a sexy rosy unblemished picture of the future of gambling - oh I mean gaming - in Massachusetts.

So it went unnoticed.

See a pattern here?

It's not just us.  People across this state, from Progressives to Tea Partiers to Occupy Bostonians to middle-aged moms from Bridgewater are getting fed up with our inability, no matter what we do, to be heard by the people with the power.  Or heck, even acknowledgment that we exist.

As far as the media is concerned, black bears who beat up backyard bird feeders get more attention these days than Massachusetts citizen volunteers working hard to present a balanced view of an issue that will effect us all.

Four and a half years ago, I could tell myself it was all a fluke, that the folks in government, the journalists, are so busy, so overwhelmed with information and with requests to be heard... that we just needed to try harder.  But we have tried harder.  We've tried for years, and when you watch the Senate do things like repeal the Happy Hour law for casinos, it feels like it's all made little difference.

And what does that say about a democracy by and for the people?

Perhaps Senator Stan Rosenberg (D -Amherst) holds the key:
“What lobbyists and interest groups buy is access,’’ Rosenberg said. “They don’t buy votes.’’
Yeah, Stan, but it buys access.

And that does buy votes.

Listening to one side all the time can do that to a lot of people.

It's like when my mother started watching Fox news all time, then started believing that Obama was a practicing socialist Muslim who was born in Kenya.

For the record, here's what they're all ignoring about the gambling issue - a press release containing a new analysis of potential economic impacts of casinos and slot barns that was issued by Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts. If you're a Massachusetts citizen, you might want to take the time to read it:
“The public is being sold a bill of goods and our new analysis should blow the rose-colored glasses off proponents and force them to rethink this poor excuse for economic development and local aid,” said Scott Harshbarger, president of Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts. “Those lining up behind this bill must be doing it to support some other constituency because the numbers being thrown around by proponents simply don’t add up.”
The new analysis shows:
  • Proponent job estimates are at best, wildly optimistic. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that, for every $1 million diverted from household spending in Massachusetts, the state loses 8.2 jobs. Casino supporters estimate they will produce between $300 million and $450 million in tax revenue. That revenue will come from diverting between $700 million and $1.3 billion from household spending to casinos, killing between 5,700 and 10,600 Massachusetts jobs – approximately the same number of permanent jobs claimed by casino supporters.
  • Local aid will be hurt, not helped, by casinos. The consensus of all studies predicts a 5 percent to 10 percent decline in Lottery revenue after the arrival of casinos. At the House estimate of $1.2 billion in taxable gaming revenue (nearly double what state residents now put into casinos), that means a potential loss of $90 million or more in local aid to cities and towns.
  • Revenue estimates are, at best, rosy and completely out of date. The Governor said state residents already drive to Connecticut casinos and “spend $1.5 billion dollars . . . right now”. The House said casinos would generate $1.2 billion. The Senate now claims $1.8 billion to be had for Massachusetts.

  • The back-up for these figures appears to be based on “pre-recession” reports that are extraordinarily outdated. The most recent data from UMass/Dartmouth’s 2011 study shows that the amount gambled and lost by Massachusetts residents in Connecticut casinos was merely $486 million (and $613 million overall). At the proposed 25 percent casino tax rate, this equates to only $121 million in gaming tax revenue, of which only 20 percent to 25 percent is going to local aid. Recapturing all of this revenue would produce only $30 million in new unrestricted local aid to cities and towns.
  • The giveaways in this bill are stunning in an era when confidence in Beacon Hill is at an all-time low. The bill puts tens of millions of dollars at the disposal of the unaccountable political appointees of the Gaming Commission, in perpetuity, to spend in its discretion without legislative oversight. Hundreds of millions of dollars more will be dedicated to other unspecified state projects each year. This bill is a feeding frenzy for special interests.  
Oh... and get this new chart - which follows the money as per the new gambling bill, currently being debated by the senate.

Kinda hurts your head doesn't it?

But heck, I'm sure that the Governor has already tossed it in the circular file, that the Senate has hit the delete button, and that the media is busy putting together a much more important story about a Kardashian sister or a funny new viral video cat video.

In the meantime, here's one for the 'irony column'.
Senate President Therese Murray dismissed opponents’ concerns about job creation as "elitist," contending that any new job created by a casino would be welcomed by someone who is without a job.
Yes, the same Therese Murray whose behavior at last year's gambling debate compelled me to create this:

Yes, the same Therese Murray who, during the current debate, shooed her Senate brethren behind closed doors where, away from prying eyes, they peeled 4 years off an amendment banning them from going to work for the casino industry after leaving office.

And yes, the same Therese Murray whose actions, after returning to the Senate podium afterward compelled someone  in the chamber to yell, "Let them eat cake!"

Yes, that's the same Therese Murray who thinks that gambling opponents are elitist.

And her main minion, Stan Rosenberg?  Remember last year when, after coming under fire for using taxpayer money to fund a benefit only report, he 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.”
So look, now expanded gambling opponents have our own study.  It's not exactly 'independent'.  But then, neither is Stan's.  So what's the legislatures 'casino guru' got to say about it?  Apparently nothing.

Maybe he just can't hear us from the back of the bus.

I don't know if Progressives or Tea Partiers or Occupiers will be able to bring about real change on Beacon Hill or Wall Street - but I hope so.  If I've learned anything these last few years, it's that predatory billionaires gaining more and more access to a tone-deaf government and a failing fourth estate just makes the world a crappier place for the rest of us.

But in the meantime, don't overlook the potential contributions of us middle-aged women.  I mean, a lady named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and sparked the civil rights movement.

Come to think of it, I think Madame DeFarge was a middle-aged woman too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


We're knights of the round table
We dance whene'er we're able
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccable.
We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 27, 2011…..Senate leaders lashed out Tuesday over a proposal issued by a gambling opponent that would have restricted lawmakers from working for casino operators for five years after they leave office.

After a heated debate in which three senators ripped the proposal as an unfair indictment of all public servants, Senate President Therese Murray called a sudden Democratic caucus in her office.

After an hour behind closed doors, members emerged and quickly voted to support a scaled back version of the amendment, barring lawmakers from working for a casino applicant for one year after leaving their posts.

The amendment passed 36-1 with only Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) dissenting.

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting Played

Do you suppose that local TV news stations know when they're getting played?

See, I watch a lot of news over the course of a day - mostly Channel 7 (WHDH) at morning and midday, and Channel 5 (WCVB) in the evening and late night.   Usually, the news is just background noise while I work, but naturally, when there's some sort of gambling story it gets my attention.

So imagine the battle for my attention as I watched, over the course of one 24 hour news cycle, the same story running, nearly word for word, on both of my favorite TV News stations.  Over and over and over again. Only the co-anchors seemed to change.

The story?  Well, apparently, the day before the Senate sat down to debate the latest gambling bill, a poll was released!

The poll was conducted by...  wait for it...  UMass Dartmouth Center for Public Policy (which needn't bother sending my 11th grader a college brochure) which indicated... you'll never guess...  that a majority of Mass. residents want a casino! Yay!!

Wow, what an incredible coinkydink.

UMass D (for D), the taxpayer-funded rock under which licence-plate-counting resort-casino-evangelist, Clyde Barrow remains coiled for most of the year, releases a pro-casino poll, at the very moment when our state senators are suddenly remembering that they've forgotten to do their annual two minutes worth of homework on the casino issue, just hours before deciding whether to sign the worst gambling bill in a decade into law, and shoots it off in an e-mail, on college letterhead and in tightly written text, to all the local news outlets.

My, what a godsend.  Like Cliff Notes with video.

Why is it that none of TV news stations mentions a similar poll, performed by Western Mass. College from  two years ago?  A poll that produced exactly the same figure as UMass D - 56% in favor of a casino.   Could it be that the results of this particular poll also revealed that 57% of respondents opposed a casino where they live.

Which is kind of funny when you remember that map, the one with the 3 circles encompassing a 50 mile radius around 3 hypothetical casinos, illustrating the area where all the negative impacts from one casino tend to settle.

Ok, sure, if you want to quibble, you could argue that the black dot where Middleboro is should now slide southwesterly and park itself in either Fall River or New Bedford.  But still, when you add Deval's concessionary slot parlor in Raynham or Plainville to the mix - you're still looking looking at a triple whammy for Central and Southeastern Mass, the North Shore and the Cape.

Now, let's just say, hypothetically, that 100% of all Mass residents were aware of that map - which in reality, only a fraction of a fraction of a half a percent actually do - and then a pollster from UMass called a random sampling of folks from across the state and asked if they were feeling all sunny and positive about a casino in Massachusetts.

Would you suppose that particular statistic would still be hovering around 56 %.  Or even over 50%.

Because if you do, you're dreaming.

But what do any of these pesky factual nuances matter to the journalistic heroes of TV news, when they can get a free pre-digested news story, along with an academic stamp of approval, and an opportunity to roll all that neat casino stock footage.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive, because last week members of the USS-Mass coalition sat down with Greg Bialecki, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development and his staff, to discuss the current gambling bill and later issued this press release titled:


Which the media ignored entirely.

It reads:

…coalition leaders were dismayed by the absence of answers to questions about revenue, regulations, jobs and social impacts.

“We were shocked to learn they did not have answers to simple questions”, stated Tom Larkin, President of United to Stop Slots.
  • How much revenue is expected, short and long term?
  • How many jobs are expected short and long term?
  • What are the financial costs to the state to set up the regulatory structure?
  • What will be the effect on the State Lottery?
  • How are projections derived to estimate gambling addiction and money spend or lost in Connecticut?
  • What plans do the Administration have to constrain political corruption?
  • How much gambling revenue will come from “new” money as compared to the redistribution of existing money?
“An independent cost-benefit analysis has never been done by the Administration, therefore, they cannot provide straight answers to basic questions”, concluded Larkin.
Now I ask, would you rather get played by a taxpayer-funded strategically-timed story written by pro-gambling interests, running on all news outlets that simply reveals how little people still fully grasp about casinos.

Or be informed by a real story about a major piece of legislation, promoted by our Governor, that will create a new tax-payer funded bureaucracy, increase crime and social costs, that won't solve our fiscal woes or create as many jobs as promised, and which the Governor's own top adviser fails to even remotely grasp?

We're just sitting here waiting for your call Heather Unruh...

Still accepting interviews, Adam Williams...

C'mon and help us Hank!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shut the Front Door

The Horde returns...

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Boz

Four years ago when I scrambled to find some information on what casinos could mean for me, my town, and for Massachusetts, some of the first words I read were those of Former Rep. Dan Bosley of North Adams.

The Boz researched the subject of expanded gambling since 1996, always trying to look at things from a financial standpoint, as well as from a long-term vs. short-term perspective. And not surprisingly, he always found that it was bad economic policy.

When the issue ignited in 2007, starting down the street from where I sit right now, Dan became a champion to those of us fighting casinos and slot parlors, flying monkeys and the myth of inevitability from our home computers, in library meeting rooms, at town hall podiums and on sidewalks.

Unlike any of the others in this debate with his or her hands on a gavel, when Dan chaired the 2008 public hearing on Deval Patrick's 3 casino plan, he sat through 16 hours of testimony, allowing everyone as long as they needed to speak, and making gambling lobbyists wait as long as anti-casino activists.

The Boz was also one of the issue's greatest debaters, and in 2010 he debated it again on the floor of the House for the last time. His last speech on the issue, taken right before the House voted to expand gambling, is here. I hope you'll take the time to watch.

Thanks for everything, Boz. Thanks for never giving up the good fight.

You'll be missed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Must See TV

As you may have heard, the CBS program 60 Minutes will be airing a segment this Sunday, January 9th, on the subject of predatory gambling - specifically slot machines.

I've known about this for some time, but the cynic in me has refused to believe it was going to actually happen until I saw it for myself.  Because, first there was the build up, the buzz, the speculation.  I counted the hits on the web site, then Kathleen Norbut had a phone interview. But it all seemed to go nowhere.

Then, we got word that it was going to air in June.  Then it was postponed to October.  Then, it would happen sometime before the end of the year.  So I guess I just started to assume it would never air, or perhaps, it just was a figment of my imagination that an investigative news program as outstanding as 60 Minutes would take on this subject when so many others have managed to ignore.

Then, yesterday, I got confirmation that the show will, in fact, be airing this Sunday.

Still, I don't know what they're going to cover in the segment, and having watched how the media has covered this topic for the last years, I have full reason to expect a softball fluff piece that comes down easy on the predatory gambling industry and the politicians who love them.  As an added bonus, they could rub some salt in the wound by painting predatory gambling opponents as preachy moralists hell-bent on screwing our fellow Americans out of casino jobs and tax revenue.

But, since 60 Minutes has devoted a great deal of it's air time these past 43 years to interviewing whistle blowers, exposing frauds and uncovering shady boiler room operations, I've decided to be something I'm usually not when it comes to gambling coverage - I'm hopeful.

I've watched 60 Minutes all my life.  I know that Morely Safer has always worn checkered shirts and what Mike Wallace looked like with eyebrows.  I remember when a young Meredith Vieira started as a correspondent alongside and equally young Steve Kroft, and how she was fired over a controversy involving the need to breast feed her baby on set.  I remember that, before Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes featured a fun two-person debate at the end of each program called Point CounterPoint, which became the basis for the infamous SNL sketch where Dan Akroyd would preface every argument by calling Jane Curtain an "ignorant slut".  I was there, a sixth grader on the playground trying to drum up some concern over the crisis in Cambodia at recess because of a 60 Minutes episode.

Then there were those dark days in the mid-90's when pressure from their parent company forced 60 Minutes to put the kibosh on an important upcoming segment revealing how the Tobacco industry was attempting to make cigarettes more addictive.  And perhaps that is where my trepidation comes from.  Because certainly, slot machines and cigarettes share a similar business model.

At the State House hearing on expanded gambling last summer, a crew from 60 Minutes was there.  In fact, some of them were sitting behind a group of us from the anti-predatory gambling organization USS-Mass.  At several points during the day, State Senator Marc Pacheco made glowing comments about what he felt was the fine and impartial work of New England's own infamous gambling industry evangelist, UMass Dartmouth Prof. Clyde Barrow - followed invariably by the audible sarcasm of Team USS-Mass.

One of the Senator's misinformed comments in particular was so comically inaccurate that it produced an impromptu burst of laughter from our row.  And while the Senator looked down at us, typically perplexed as to what was so funny, a member of the 60 Minutes crew sensed a potential lead, scribbling the professor's name in his notebook.  I know this because I turned around to witness it, and noticed he'd misspelled Barrow's name.  For a moment, I thought to whisper the correct spelling to the young man behind me.  Then I came to my senses.

The 60 Minutes crew left immediately after the testimony of MIT professor Natasha Schull and Harvard/Mass General Researcher Dr. Hans Brieter, both of whom did an incredible job that day - their fourth time testifying and answering the questions for the Mass. legislature regarding the addictive and deceptive features of the modern slot machine, and it's dramatic effects on human brain chemistry.

I have no real idea what the 60 Minutes segment is going to cover, but I hope they include some video of our Mass. senators and congressmen in action, lapping up the promises of the industry while paying halfhearted lip service to those who offered up figures on crime and addiction and quality of life.  I hope they mention the babies and children left to fend for themselves at home, or on in casino parking lots or on side streets while their  parents are lost in time, succumbing to a device purposely designed to play them to extinction.

I hope they will include interviews with both Schull and Brieter, and others, like Les Bernal who formed StopPredatoryGambling.org and who brought together a committed, nationwide network of expanded gambling opponents.  And I hope they take a few moments to talk to Professor  Sandra Adell of the University of Wisconsin, who wrote the compelling Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen.  I hope they make the point that our state governments are partnering with an industry that plays it's citizens for suckers.

I know they'll tell us how many billions the industry rakes in each year, and how much it creates in revenue.  But I hope they'll be fair and show the other side.  The side which the media has neglected to mention for over 30 years - until a majority have come to see the gambling industry as some sort of harmless adult Disney World and a welcome purveyor of job creation and economic stimulus. (As long as it's  not in their town.)

And then I remember the member of the Town Democratic Committee who admitted to me one sunny day as I tried to get her to read a pamphlet, that she didn't care if slot machines caused a new type of addiction.  "We need the money", she said.

We need the money.

So, I wonder if the 60 Minutes interview will be able to change minds, or even alter the debate. Because when it comes to greed, even the greed for funding to support the good things, for the causes we care about, we can all easily develop a blind spot.

And that's the wall that keeps hitting us in the face.

I don't know how some people have lasted as long as they have in this fight.  I'm am personally so fried after only three and a half years that I'm crisp on the edges and dust in the middle.  After some of the things I've heard and seen, after the experience of being an activist in a cause a lot of people either think is either lost or don't believe in at all, after all the time spent, seemingly for nothing... after all the research, the writing, the anxiety, the personalities, the juggling, the traveling, the urgency, the fighting, all the beating my head against that wall... after all the believing that my country, my state wouldn't allow something so wrong... after all that time being on edge, being ignored, being so emotionally invested, so determined and yet so repeatedly disappointed in ways I never could have imagined as I watched a Cape Cod Indian Tribe celebrating something called 'federal recognition' on the news one late night in February of 2007. 

It was a long time ago that I could count on being recharged by the electricity of my new circle, my new colleagues, new adventures, new trials, all working, laughing, planning, all on the same course.  Those were days when the time flew, that effort could resemble pleasure, when words trickled effortlessly from my fingertips, expectations were few and rewards were plentiful.  And yes, there were bad times as well, but there was also support.  There was always a willing shoulder or open ear.  The book was open to just one page - and we all were on it.

That time didn't last long, but the longing for it did and kept me going for longer than it should.

I have a friend who often reminds me that Martin Luther King would take an entire month off every year to rest and re-charge.  Since he was the head of a activist movement that changed the world, I took that to mean that I should only need the odd afternoon off, maybe to catch a movie or treat myself to something nice.  But I've learned it doesn't work that way.  Greetings from Burnoutville.

So like I said, this time, I'm hopeful.  Hopeful that 60 Minutes can, with this story, make a difference in the way the industry operates, and the way the media presents it.  And the way we've begun to perceive it.  And I'm thankful, desperately thankful, that they took on this complex, neglected subject.  Thankful it was 60 Minutes above all other news programs, because nobody does it better.  And hopeful that fifteen minutes on National TV can do more than I have personally accomplished in all these sometimes exhilarating, mostly exhausting years.

But I'm thankful mostly that this Sunday night, after more than 30 years, the opponents and victims of predatory gambling are finally getting a shot at a real soapbox.

Because we have one hell of a story to tell...