Here we go again, time to debate the pros and cons of expanded gaming in Massachusetts. Proponents and opponents will meet in the Beacon Hill Gardiner Auditorium in Boston this afternoon, just as they did on March 18th, 2008, to debate this issue. I was in the packed audience for the 2008 debate. There were many good and thoughtful arguments made on both sides of the debate, but it was all for not as the fix was in; Speaker Sal Dimassi had wrangled the votes to see that the proposed article died in committee, having never seen the light of day for a vote. Fast forward 18 months, 540+ days of brutal economic news and local cuts, and now the polls are falling all over themselves to get something passed. In all likelihood, we’ll see a bill that will allow slot machines at our existing racing venues, or full blown casinos on a federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag tract of land, or perhaps even another location, such as Palmer or Milford, that would welcome the Mohegan Suns and Penn Gamings of the casino world with open arms. The only problem is that the can’t miss gaming ship may have already sailed. Just building a resort casino is no guarantee of it’s success nowadays. Virtually every gaming entity in the Northeast, sans Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, is significantly down year over year since 2007. And while a casino license could have been expected to fetch as much as 500 million dollars up front a few years back, now municipalities will settle for local infrastructure improvements, and hopefully a nice piece of the taxes that will be imposed on the entity.
Whatever happens in Massachusetts, it is likely to be three years or more by the time anyone is tossing dice or pushing a slot machine spin button. With 40% of our residents fueling the Foxwoods machine some say “if you build it they will come”, but will enough of them come to make them viable enterprises? And at what cost? Will a state with an inordinate amount of lottery revenue finally be over saturated with gambling options? Stay tuned.