Boston doesn’t need it anymore.
The city’s booming economy is the best argument against building a Boston-area casino — and for repealing the law that allows it.
The cranes tell the story. They are everywhere in Boston, tangible evidence of the new urgency to build. Their presence means there’s work for the building trades — diminishing labor’s need to promote a slots palace in Everett or Revere as the only job development plan in town. In April, the Boston unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If jobs are the rationale, the state can do without casinos, too. In May, the overall jobless rate for the state fell to 5.6 percent, the lowest in six years.
Sure, many people still need work, but casinos are no longer the best medicine for a state suffering the ill effects of a national recession. Not that they ever were.
But that was the crux of the case made by Governor Deval Patrick when he first submitted a bill in 2007 calling for three resort-style casinos in the state, which he said would generate 20,000 jobs and $2 billion in economic activity. “Governor predicts a jackpot,” proclaimed the Globe. Up against the anti-gambling agenda of then-House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, the governor lost that bid to bring casinos to Massachusetts. “Do we want to usher in a casino culture — with rampant bankruptcies, crime, and social ills — or do we want to create a better Massachusetts for all sectors of society?’’ asked DiMasi.
Expanded gambling was on its way once DiMasi resigned his post in 2009, six months prior to his indictment on multiple corruption charges. The new casino gambling law was passed in 2011, the week before DiMasi headed to federal prison. He may have lost the moral high ground, but the questions DiMasi raised before his fall from grace ring even truer today, now that we’ve had a taste of what “casino culture” means.
On one hand, Massachusetts already has a hearty appetite for gambling. Its 42-year-old state lottery is already first in the nation when it comes to per capita wagering.
But the appetite dulls when it runs up against the reality of casinos: sleazy connections, traffic, and other burdens that accompany the gauzy promise of jobs and economic development.
We now know that, given a choice, many people don’t want to live near casinos. Those who do tend to live in places where unemployment is high. Construction is underway on a slots parlor in Plainville, where unemployment is 7.1 percent; and the state gambling commission just provisionally awarded the first casino license to MGM Resorts, which plans to build an $800 million development in Springfield, where unemployment is over 8 percent. The jobless rate in Everett and Revere is somewhat higher than the state average, but is that enough to conclude that casinos are their best jobs plan too?
The potential for unsavory connections is also emerging. A Globe report revealed a troubling relationship between Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and two men with criminal backgrounds who have ties to the land that casino mogul Steve Wynn wants to develop in that city.
Massachusetts, where technology, education, and health care thrive, can certainly come up with economic development for all that doesn’t leave the less fortunate to games of chance. Spreading the wealth should not mean taking from the poorest citizens. It’s bad policy, but that’s the way the casino business operates.
Especially in boom times, there’s no reason to give into it. In Boston, or anywhere.Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.