Testifying at Senate Gambling Hearing

A packed house filled the Gardner Auditorium in the State House today for a public hearing on the proposed Senate gambling bill.

I’ve been a long-time opponent of expanded gambling in our state, and I was there, with several of my colleagues and many citizen activists, to express my opposition to the bill.

Senate Gambling Hearing

Here is the testimony I delivered at the hearing today:

I have been, and remain, opposed to bringing casinos and slot machines to our state because of the negative, costly impacts I think it will have on small businesses and local communities.

I also believe that expanding gambling is a short-sighted and ineffective economic development strategy. It drains money from local economies, hurting local businesses. Quite simply , we can do better: there are better strategies for creating jobs and promoting economic growth in the Commonwealth that don’t come with the significant downsides that casinos bring.

These downsides and costs to local communities include:

o   Increase crime rates and public safety costs. Crime, including embezzlement, robbery, DUIs, aggravated assaults and domestic violence rates, increases 8 – 10% right after casino is built, and continues to increase after that — and local communities have to pick up the tab.[1] Local governments also bear the costs of significant increases in emergency service calls and casino-related traffic problems requiring police oversight.[2]

o   Impact on local restaurants, hotels and arts and entertainment businesses. Money that would otherwise be spent at locally-owned small businesses will instead be spent at casinos owned by out-of-state corporations, and little of that money is being reinvested in the local community. Our downtowns will suffer as a result.

o   Impact on small businesses up to 30 miles away. When discretionary income is spent on gambling, local businesses suffer. Consumers have less money to spend on clothing, electronics, furniture, automobiles, or any other locally-sold product. A study on the costs and benefits of casinos found that for every $1000 in increased casino revenue, businesses up to 30 miles away lost $243. [3]

o Development-related problems: Our state has been a leader on Smart Growth initiatives, but whether it’s traffic, infrastructure costs or environmental impact, resort casinos are often in direct opposition to those goals.

Local communities will feel the impact of increased traffic and gridlock, and mitigation for highway and local roadway traffic impacts within and beyond the host community will be necessary. Ledyard, CT saw a 245% increase in traffic in the years after a casino came to town.

There will certainly be an impact on the local natural environment as well, including the loss of open space and stormwater management issues across municipal borders.

And there will be various infrastructure costs required to support a proposed development, such as road/bridge improvements, utilities, upgrades to water/sewer facilities, water quality/quantity issues, etc.

o   Social costs: Problem gambling leads to distressed families, child neglect, suicide and bankruptcy. Domestic violence rates go up, as do foreclosures.[4] Local communities will need support and additional funding for social services to deal with all of these negative social problems caused or exacerbated by expanded gambling.

The effect of casinos is regional, not just on host community: It’s also important to remember that it isn’t just the host community that bears the burden – all of the above mentioned costs and impacts will be felt by the bordering communities and beyond.

In my opinion, any benefits we may get from casinos are not worth the costs – the loss, including jobs lost, for small businesses, the negative effects and costs it will impose on local communities, and the harm it will cause to tens of thousands of Massachusetts families.

That said, if the Senate DOES decide to go forward with proposals to expand gambling, I want to strongly urge that all of these costs are taken into account, and that an effort is made to:

o   Give local communities the ability to “opt out” of having a casino in their area

o   Mitigate the costs to local communities as much as possible and

o   Require the industry that is causing the problems (i.e. the casino industry) picks up the tab for these costs.

Some specific proposals would be:

o   Regional Referendum: Before a casino is sited in a community, a regional referendum should be held, giving the local communities – host community AS WELL as abutting communities – the opportunity to “opt out” of having a casino in their backyard.

o   Cost Mitigation: A Community Mitigation fund must be set up to help local communities – both host and abutting communities – cover the costs caused by the casinos, including the ongoing impacts on the environment, transportation, municipal services, social services,  and public safety. We must make sure that we dedicate enough money to this fund to adequately cover all of these costs. Local communities should NOT be left on the hook.

o   Requiring casinos to cover the TRUE costs their product has on local communities. At the end of the day, if we expand gambling in this state, the casino industry will make billions in profit off of Massachusetts residents, sucking money away from local businesses while increasing costs for local communities and harming many local families.

And although many of the costs, particularly the human costs, can NEVER be “mitigated” by money alone, we can at the very least require casinos to cover those costs that can be quantified. I would urge the Committee to look at tax rates and fees that are adequate for covering those costs.

Let me be clear: I think no matter what we do, expanding gambling in our state will be a bad deal for Massachusetts.

But if we’re going to do it, let’s at least ensure that the people of Massachusetts are getting the “least bad” deal possible.

[1] Grinols, Earl L., Mustard, David B. and Dilley, Cynthia Hunt, “Casinos, Crime and Community Costs.” June 2000.

[2] Baxandall, Phineas and Bruce Sacerdote. “Betting on the Future: The Economic Impact of Legalized Gambling. ” Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, Dartmouth College. Policy Briefs, January 13, 2005

[3] Grinols, Earl L. Gambling in America Costs & Benefits. Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pg. 77.

[4] National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report, commissioned by the United States Congress.1999

1 thought on “Testifying at Senate Gambling Hearing

  • I support 200% your Web Page statement on opposing casinos in MA, especially your list of mitigating measures IF the Legislature does move to approve them.
    I applaud your considered opinion as to the many CONS associated with legalized gambling/casinos. Legalized gambling is a Societal Cancer — it stains and corrupts all that is around it.
    I very much appreciate your rational approach to issues — as does my wife.
    Count my wife and me as a Dedicated Supporters of yours on this vital, far-reaching issue.

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