As you may have heard, the Massachusetts casino industry is off to a rocky start with voters.
Casinos have already been rejected in Palmer, West Springfield, and East Boston. Milford voters go to the polls Tuesday to vote on whether to approve a casino that would be owned in part by Foxwoods. Its prospects are anyone’s guess.
In one sense, the opposition toward casinos is surprising. After all, the state has been in the gaming business for decades in the form of the state lottery, while relentlessly touting the benefits of the billions in revenue it brings in. Casinos, however, have proven to be a harder sell. Casinos are obviously more disruptive to a community than selling scratch tickets. And even in this sluggish recovery, the notion that one will bring thousands of jobs to your town or neighborhood is being viewed skeptically. So high-powered casino operators find themselves in the unfamiliar role of trying to convince voters that they really will make good neighbors.
Casino supporters worried that the East Boston fiasco was viewed as a turning point, and it might prove to be. The anticasino forces got a gift when Caesars Entertainment was forced out of the project just before the vote. A proposal that couldn’t lose lost heavily.
Yet, the ground-level debates about whether casinos are good for cities and towns have been healthy. While ambivalent about casinos, I cheer the fact that voters have not turned out to be the easily manipulated rubber stamp some thought they might be. The state’s planned casinos may still find homes — but only in cities and towns that believe they fit.
Following the East Boston vote, some wondered whether it spelled doom for the whole idea of three state-endorsed casinos and one slot parlor. It’s a fair question.
Everett and Springfield voters passed a casino overwhelmingly. The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, which doesn’t need Gaming Commission approval, says it wants to build on ancestral land on Martha’s Vineyard, though the unanswered questions about their plans are many. Of all the locations in play, theirs is probably the least popular. Who thinks the Vineyard is a good place for a casino? Nobody, basically.
Then there are the Suffolk Downs operators, with the notion of simply moving their project a few hundred yards to Revere after being rejected in East Boston. On the plus side, Revere voters approved a casino. On the minus side, by allowing them to submit a new proposal, the state would essentially circumvent the entire process. Their goal of saving the jobs at Suffolk Downs is worthy, but do they really deserve another bite of the apple?
A casino would transform sleepy Milford. This is not exactly a city that never sleeps, but perhaps residents will decide they are ready for more night life. We’ll know Tuesday night. What we know now is that the idea of casinos was more popular in the abstract than when residents began to really think about them. As a prospective pot of gold, they sounded fine. As potential neighbors, not so much.
I don’t envy Steve Crosby, head of the state’s gambling commission. Regardless of the outcome in Milford, there may not be three good options to choose from when the time comes to actually site our long-awaited casinos. I believe the casino idea is probably too big to fail. But this can’t be the scenario anyone anticipated, with so much riding on voters whose thoughts on this issue are so unpredictable.
Casino gambling is coming to Massachusetts. But where in Massachusetts? Tuesday may provide some clarity. Or not.