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Guest Column: The Casino Halfway Moment

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

 

Expendable: “not worth saving”… “meant to be used or thrown away”…”open to sacrifice in the interest of gaining an objective.”

The gambling legislation of 2011, born of desperation in a struggling economy, laid bare that certain citizens and regions of Massachusetts were considered expendable. The government was allowing a certain percentage of its citizens to suffer to make up for revenue lost from the Great Recession.

Now, however, the climate is different. The green shoots of economic recovery are apparent, and revenues are back to pre-recession levels. Western Mass. towns like West Springfield and Palmer have resisted the temptation of a casino. The surrounding communities of West Springfield, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and Holyoke have expressed their disapproval.

Pearl Buck wrote, “Every mistake has a halfway moment … when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.” There is now momentum to give all citizens, even “expendable” ones, that halfway moment to remedy the mistake that was the Expanded Gaming Act.

Much promotion time has been devoted to short-term positive impacts of casinos, such as construction jobs, leaving little time for discussion of the long-term irreversible impacts on Springfield and surrounding communities, namely gambling addiction, inequality, economic cannibalization and lowered property values.

Gambling addiction is thought to be even more prevalent than alcoholism, and its likelihood doubles for residents within 10 miles of a casino. A little math shows that 20,000 families in Greater Springfield will be devastated if a casino comes to town as they lose college savings, retirement accounts, and money for food and rent to today’s highly addictive slot machines, which are designed by psychologists to be played “to extinction”—until the last dollar is spent.

Casinos tend to prey on the poor. A 2005 survey found that disadvantaged neighborhoods have 10 times the addiction rates of advantaged neighborhoods. The inequality gap is at record levels, and casinos expand that gap, with money flowing from the poor to multi-billion-dollar corporations.

Academic studies show that local businesses suffer when casinos come to town. A Minnesota study showed that restaurant business within 30 miles of a casino dropped by 25 to 50 percent thanks to cheap casino alternatives subsidized by slot machines. This cannibalization explains an Illinois study that showed one or more jobs lost for every casino job created, and a Harvard study showing no change in unemployment rate after a casino opens. In fact, a 2007 survey found that just 17 percent of economists believe a casino produces more benefits than costs.

Homeowners stand to lose as property values drop in the vicinity of a casino, particularly along highly traveled roads. When Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the state Gaming Commission, was asked if he’d want a casino near him, he responded, “Not too close,” due to declining property values. Governor Patrick also said he would vote against a casino in his town.

We feel strongly that Greater Springfield is not expendable. Government’s role should not be to sponsor and even promote casino gambling at the expense of the expendable. Fortunately, there is hope of correcting this mistake in the form of the Repeal the Casino Deal effort. Over 90,000 signatures were collected to put a casino question on the November, 2014 ballot. After the question clears a legal hurdle, all citizens will have a say, and after hearing both sides, we believe voters will follow the lead of West Springfield and Palmer and make casinos expendable.•

 

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