Is it time to take another look at Casinos?

The state has serious financial problems. Would legalizing casinos bail us out?

Oh, I know it’s too late for this year. The Legislature would have to have approved it last month, before we adjourned. But it’s something to think about in the future. Maybe the near future.

After all, at least two gambling enterprises—big ones—offered Massachusetts upfront money just for authorizing gambling this year. Fees for licenses, fees on slot machines. Ready, now, for the asking. If we approve gambling.

And the race tracks say they can get slots installed and up and running in less than 60 days. Did we overlook a good thing? Is gambling bad? Good?

There’s no one answer, of course.

On the negative side, we always have those who say casinos will ruin neighborhoods, or entire cities. That casinos don’t hire enough full time workers at salaries high enough for the work involved. Traffic congestion. That crime will increase. Or that we’ll be creating gambling addiction (for which the Massachusetts Lottery already kicks in $1-million each year).

Do people want casinos? Springfield voted no. Holyoke, yes. The Palmer area hasn’t decided. Have you decided?

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, first in line to get a casino license, surveyed 500 voters. Their results showed that 60 percent of the respondents favored construction of an Indian casino similar to Connecticut’s Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. Only 29 percent opposed the idea.

There was no difference when it comes to Democrats, Republicans or Independents. Or men or women. Among ages or regions of the state. Basically, about 60 percent of everyone favored the idea of a casino in Massachusetts.

They also found that a majority of Massachusetts voters (59 percent) have traveled out of state to visit a casino.

Why would these voters favor casinos?

Primarily for the tax money. An estimated $200 to $300-million a year for starters, money that would stay in the state to support education, housing, health care. But also because casinos create jobs.

When voters considered the money that’s being generated in Connecticut and Rhode Island, some $800-million a year from Massachusetts alone, support increased.

Bottom line. By a two to one margin (60 percent to 29 percent) voters support the building and operation of an Indian casino. According to the Wampanoags.

The tribe says it would replicate the Connecticut casino model, with a rural location. The tribe says crime has not been an issue in Connecticut. The tribe would allow the state, including the Attorney General, to oversee all aspects of the operations. The tribe says it will also provide hotel, restaurants, entertainment, retail. And the tribe says it will set aside money to fund compulsive gambling awareness, education and rehabilitation. The tribe estimates that it will provide 9,000 jobs.

The Wampanoags also sent along a lot of survey information about crime, jobs, lottery losses, employment benefits. And counter arguments to all the negatives. Summed up by the Economics Resource Group of Cambridge like this:

“Our investigation inescapably yields the conclusion that the positive social and economic impacts of gaming…far outweigh the negative.”

Why the Wampanoags, you may ask? Because they are the only federally recognized Native American Indian Tribe in Massachusetts. They’ve been asking for a casino for more than a decade. And, since 1988, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act has empowered federally recognized tribes to own and operate casinos.

So, I’m betting the Wampanoags will be successful. Eventually.

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