Massachusetts Governor Hopes to Balance Budget with Casino Gambling

Published December 1, 2007

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has rolled the political and economic dice with a new plan to boost state government revenues.

In September he announced a proposal to bring three large casinos to Massachusetts. He predicts thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of extra revenue annually.

Strong opposition has already lined up, as has strong support.

Support and opposition do not follow party lines. For instance, Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield), Senate Republican leader, likes the gambling proposal.

‘Gambling Already’

“Being Republican leader in the Senate, I’m not often complimentary to the governor, but I do think the proposal he put out does tackle the issue in a way that most benefits the state,” Tisei said.

Tisei noted “a tremendous number” of Massachusetts residents already go to Indian casinos in Connecticut.

“They’re gambling already,” Tisei said. “Residents are far ahead of policymakers as far as accepting casinos. Here in Massachusetts it’s a little hypocritical for people to object to the state being involved in gambling when our lottery is a $4 billion enterprise. It’s one of the largest lotteries in the country. Now we have keno. We’ve turned convenience stores into betting halls.”

Harming Other Businesses

Gambling opponent Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams) told the Boston Herald, “Casinos suck the oxygen out of the air for other businesses. That’s going to be [Patrick’s] legacy. That’s what he’s going to be known as–the governor who brought in casinos.”

Rep. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth) also opposes Patrick’s proposal. He argues there is no guarantee of economic gains. He points to casinos in Connecticut and other neighboring states and says they are already cutting into each other’s business.

“They’re not the big cash cow anymore,” deMacedo said. He agrees with his Democratic Party counterpart Bosley that casinos take money away from other businesses.

“Economic gains where the casinos locate could mean losses in other areas,” deMacedo said. “A perfect example is Plymouth [where he lives]. We’re a tourism town. One of the proposed casinos is in a neighboring town. People know these casinos subsidize the costs of rooms and restaurants and will be able to compete with and undercut hotels and restaurants in the community I represent.”

Bidding for Billions

Patrick says he believes casinos would benefit Massachusetts as a whole.

“Casino gambling is neither a cure-all nor the end of civilization,” Patrick said at a September 18 news conference. “Under certain conditions, I believe casinos can work well in and for the Commonwealth.”

Patrick proposes a bid process for 10-year licenses for each of the three casinos. The administration estimates that would generate $600 million to $900 million in upfront fees. The state expects to net another $400 million a year from the state’s 27 percent cut of gambling proceeds.

The state need to spend money on extra police enforcement, a gambling regulatory agency, and treating problem gamblers.

Creating Problems

The acknowledgment of these extra spending needs should signal the many problems associated with gambling, deMacedo said.

“In Massachusetts we make sure poor people are taken care of,” deMacedo said. “We have a strong health system, prescription drugs for the elderly, many things like this. When people gamble away their money, we are there. We’ll be creating more problem gamblers and then paying to help them.”

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.