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.