Shirley Leung

What if we legalized gambling, but end up with no casinos?

(Clockwise from top) Proposed casinos in Milford, Springfield, and Everett.
Top: Foxwoods; Bottom right: MGM; Bottom left: Wynn Resorts
(Clockwise from top) Proposed casinos in Milford, Springfield, and Everett.

After our typically never-ending debate, we are finally in the home stretch of this tortuous process of figuring out where our casinos will be built.

But instead of seeing the finish line, we find ourselves in this predicament:

What if we legalized gambling but end up with no casinos?


That could happen.

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Our current hand: We have casino companies that have been vetted by the state gaming commission but do not have sites because potential host communities rejected their plans.

We have towns that have approved casinos, but companies’ proposals have not been vetted by the commission.

Then we have local politicians who just made it known that billionaire casino moguls aren’t welcome in their communities.

What started out as a high-stakes competition for some of the most lucrative gaming rights in the country could be a complete bust. We had the pick of the litter — Caesars, MGM, Mohegan Sun, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock, Foxwoods.


Could we have crafted a more perfect Massachusetts moment in showing the world just how difficult it is to do business here?

We’re now just down to MGM, Wynn, and Foxwoods in the race for two resort licenses, and none of them have yet been approved by the commission. Foxwoods hasn’t even held its local vote. Final proposals are due Dec. 31.

The whole process has got to make the remaining contenders nervous about spending upwards of roughly $1 billion in a casino-
resistant state.

“Casinos, they run games in favor of the house. They don’t get involved in games they lose,” said Vin Narayanan, editor in chief of Casino City, a Newton-based trade publication. “It becomes a real question of whether Massachusetts is worth the trouble.”

People like Celeste Myers — a relentless ringleader of the Suffolk Downs opposition group, No Eastie Casino — hope the answer is no. Massachusetts can prosper without casinos.


But can we? The state has built into this year’s budget $195 million, which the awarding of two gaming licenses would generate.That will go to fund everything from community colleges to transportation. And if we do end up building gambling palaces here — up to three casinos and one slot parlor — the state gets a cut of the gambling revenues, which could translate into a couple hundred million dollars annually.

Our politicians pushed through gaming during our darkest economic times as a way to create thousands of jobs and feed our starving state budget. The economy is better now, but we still have 250,000 people out of work, and the still-strained budget faces new pressures as federal funding withers.

Wisely, Beacon Hill is probably not betting on Washington getting its act together.

Our aversion to casinos must perplex the oddsmakers in Vegas, because every indication is that we love casinos. We love to gamble. You name it, we bet on it.

Last year, Massachusetts residents dropped about $850 million at casinos in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine, according to the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

At the Connecticut casinos, we made up a third of the patrons at Foxwoods and nearly a fifth of the players at Mohegan Sun. In Rhode Island, we made up half of the customers at Twin River.

We spent $4.85 billion on Massachusetts scratch tickets, draw games, and Keno, at an average of $712 per head, the highest per- capita lottery spending in the country.

It’s absolutely true that casinos bring their own set of headaches — traffic, crime, and gambling addictions — but all of those slots and blackjack hands also bring in tax money that we are now giving away to other states.

Take a look:

Playing the slots at Twin River and Newport Grand, Massachusetts residents handed a whopping $163.7 million to the treasury of our tiny neighbor Rhode Island last year, according to the Center for Policy Analysis.

All those trips we made to Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods contributed an estimated $76.5 million to the state of Connecticut.

And by rolling the dice at the new Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Oxford Casino, we padded the coffers of Maine and the City of Bangor with over $1 million.

Boy, do we love to gamble.

But I wouldn’t bet on a casino being built in our own backyard.

Shirley Leung can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.