Friday, October 12, 2007

Casino Gambling All Over the Map in the Boston City Council Race

At last Wednesday's forum for the candidates for Boston City Councilor-At-Large, all the candidates were asked to give their position on whether or not they support having a casino within the City of Boston.

Some people may call this a state issue, which is true to some extent: the State Legislature and Governor must first approve having casinos of any kind, or even just slot machines, in Massachusetts. Should the State not approve casinos, the Mashpee Wapanoag can also appeal to the Federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs for approval.

But the issue is closer to home than that. While the state must approve having casinos altogether, local governments must decide whether to welcome, constrain, or block altogether construction of a casino in their community. That's why the candidates were all asked whether they backed a casino in Boston, not whether they backed casino gambling in Massachusetts altogether.

The Boston Globe recently surveyed Massachusetts residents and found 53% support leaning towards legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts. Despite this, only one-third of respondents had actually made up their mind to support legalizing casino gambling; 40% are undecided for the time being (want more information), and 24% oppose it. A plurality of Massachusetts residents, and a majority of residents within Route 128, wanted any such casino to be in a rural location, i.e., relatively far from the urban Greater Boston area. Governor Deval Patrick's proposal, however, looks to having one of the three resort-style casinos to be located in or near to Boston, with Suffolk Downs (straddling the line between East Boston and Revere) as the odds-on favorite.

Where the Councilor-At-Large Candidates Stand on Casino Gambling

The Boston City Councilor-At-Large candidates expressed opinions all over the map on the issue of casino gambling in the City of Boston.

Councilor Stephen Murphy and challenger John Connolly expressed strong support for casino gambling in Massachusetts, and Murphy went further in wanting slot machines (albeit not a destination casino) at Suffolk Downs within the year. They cited the potential revenue as the justification for allowing casinos. Challenger David Wyatt appeared to be leaning towards casinos in general, but against Suffolk Downs in particular, because he doesn't want anybody competing against the Native Americans' own casinos.

Councilor Felix Arroyo and challengers Martin Hogan and Matthew Geary strongly opposed casino gambling anywhere, including Boston. "We don't have to gamble our future away," said Arroyo, who also cited many social concerns about the negative impacts of gambling on the public. Geary thought that the casino developers would be the main financial beneficiaries, not the public or the government. Hogan saw the inherent conflict due to the added burden of policing the casinos while the city instead needs more police on the streets.

Councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon were undecided on casinos. Flaherty said that destination casinos "hold much promise," but said that he wanted promises in writing about how the revenue created would guarantee state-wide direct benefits like additional police, school improvements, and job creation. Yoon understood the economic development arguments, but worried about gambling addiction and the possible role of "criminal elements" or the "underworld" in casinos.

Flaherty, Connolly, and Yoon all called for listening closely to residents of East Boston on the issue of a casino at Suffolk Downs. "We absolutely have to have a vigorous public process and a debate in East Boston," said Yoon. Flaherty went so far to say that he would "hold up judgment altogether" until he got the chance to "take the temperature" of the residents in East Boston. Only Councilor Murphy emphasized that the casino issue was one for the State, not the City, to deal with.

What Was Missing From Their Answers?

There were two substantial omissions from the eight candidates' answers. Most remarkable was how no one objected to casino gambling on clearly ethical grounds by saying, "I think gambling is wrong and we as a government shouldn't support it." The Archdiocese of Boston has come out strongly against legalizing casinos, so it surprises me that there weren't any candidates expressing such an objection. Sean Cardinal O'Malley said that "we unequivocally oppose casino gambling in the state." Should the Cardinal deny communion to casino supporters?

Also suprising was that no one saw the role that city government could play in blocking, or at least constraining, the construction of a casino at Suffolk Downs. Local governments have the power of zoning and permitting to make it very difficult to build an unpopular development, yet no candidate seized on this point. Casinos need water, sewer, and electrical lines, roads capable of holding traffic, liquor licenses, entertainment licenses, etc., all of which can be controlled partially or fully by city government. (I note that I have not examined the text of Governor Patrick's bill which might include language over-riding any local ordinances, zoning, etc.) While the State may control the issue of whether or not there can be casinos somewhere in Massachusetts, it will be up to our local elected officials to decide if we should welcome one here in Boston.

I was also amazed that none of the candidates really addressed the issue of whether or not Governor Patrick's analysis of the monetary benefits of legalizing gambling appeared credible. The casinos will necessitate additional public expenditures in roadway access, public safety, etc., and will also likely cause a substantial drop in Massachusetts Lottery revenues, so do we believe there will be a lot of money leftover? It is a good question, but the Governor blocked providing copies to the public of the documents he studied in coming up with his plan.

Allston-Brighton's Elected Officials on Casino Gambling

I have had the opportunity recently to talk with two of our four local elected officials about the issue of casino gambling. Neither appeared prepared to take a public position; instead, both appeared to be genuine in looking for information on gambling and opinions about it from their constituents. If you have opinions or information on gambling, this would be a good time to contact your Allston-Brighton elected officials to tell them.

State Rep Kevin Honan: 617-722-2470, email, website
State Rep Mike Moran: 617-722-2460, email, website
State Senator Steven Tolman: 617- 722-1280, email, website
District 9 City Councilor Jerry McDermott: 617-635-3113, email, website

Transcript of Candidate Forum on Casino Gambling

The following is the transcript of the candidate remarks on casino gambling at the candidate forum at the Brighton Elks Lodge, October 10, 2007. Audio of this portion of the forum can be listened to here (MP3 format); the full audio links are contained in a previous post.

MODERATOR: All the candidates will get the same general question regarding casino gambling, but each will get a different specific question related to it. I'm going to ask you to answer the general question -- Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? -- in addition to a specific question.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And, specifically, should slot machines be allowed at the Suffolk Downs racetrack?

COUNCILOR MURPHY: The casino issue is a state-wide issue, it's not a city issue, so let me answer it state-wide. I do support casino gambling. I think we're way behind the eight-ball. In fact, 72% of cars down at Foxwoods have Massachusetts license plates on it, and many of them are seniors who go on bus trips down there. In terms of the slots at the racetracks, that's the way I would have started it. I don't agree with the Governor's plan. I would have had slots up and running at the five racetrack sites -- including the one at Suffolk Downs -- probably this year, and hope to put, maybe, two full-fledged casino -- one in the Middleborough southeast area of the city, and one out west in Worcester, somewhere in that area. But I think we an awful lot of revenue, that could go to a whole host of worthy purposes, to out-of-state concerns. So I do support it.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And, specifically, should a "destination" casino be built at Suffolk Downs?

MARTIN HOGAN: I personally oppose the gambling casino, because I feel that we are looking for a revenue stream in which we're bringing on something that is not healthy for us [inaudible]. I believe that it will bring in more gambling addiction, I think it will cause more drug and violence problems, and we also are going to be taking police off of the beat to patrol the casinos. We don't need that. We need as many police on the street as we can. As far as "destination," again, I disagree with that. I believe that we have had Las Vegas and Atlantic City -- and Connecticut for the last 20 years or longer -- and I believe that we need to stick with that. I think we need to look for new revenue streams and look for healthy alternatives, not for this.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And, specifically, what tools can, or should, the City of Boston use to constrain, or block altogether, a possible casino within the city limits?

COUNCILOR FLAHERTY: A destination resort casino holds much promise. It's really a two-fold question if you look at it from the State-wide perspective or if you look at it from the City-perspective. If it can be shown to me, in writing, signed by the appropriate parties, that it will lower our taxes, improve our schools, put more police officers on the streets, and create jobs, then that is something that I can support. A little closer to home in Suffolk Downs, the first thing that needs to happen is that the host community of East Boston needs to be consulted, and that has yet to happen. We have had an announcement of a proposal, and [thus far] no one has been brought to the table to voice their concerns or their opinions about the impacts of having a casino in their backyard. So I would hold up judgment altogether on a destination resort casino until I get the chance to take the temperature of the folks that I represent in East Boston, first and foremost. What tools you can use? The strength of the Council is in their advocacy, working with the elected officials that represent East Boston specifically, working with the community leaders and civic associations, will be the tools that will guide development in a proposed casino.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And, specifically, what specific concessions would be necessary for you to support building a casino at Suffolk Downs?

COUNCILOR ARROYO: I oppose casino gambling. I think they bring more social problems than solutions. I think that we should be responsible for our own future. We don't have to gamble our future away. If we take charge of our budget, we make sure that there is priority-setting, that do what is needed in the communities, instead of looking at [?enforcement ideas?], not only when there is a victim, after there is a victim. We should concentrate in investing in prevention and intervention so that we faciltate programs that bring people back to work, to productive life, then we will not have to think that we cannot take care of ourselves unless we gamble our future away. I don't that there is a concession that will change my mind.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And if a casino were to be built at Suffolk Downs, how would you anticipate your duties as City Councilor to be affected?

JOHN CONNOLLY: First and foremost, I support casino gambling. I think in a city where we have a resource crunch, particularly have major concerns over safety on our streets, and we need to find a way to get more officers on our streets as part of a way to implement more community policing strategy, that we do need to look at casino gambling to open up a source of revenue. On the destination casino issue, I think that we have to have a full process to hear what East Boston thinks on that. I really fear for the quality-of-life in that neighborhood, without it. Were it to go there? I think the biggest thing you could do as a Councilor-At-Large would be to advocate strongly for the community that would be impacted. Just having been over there this summer, concerns about traffic, concerns about quality-of-life when you've got people leaving the casino at 3 am, 4 am. I also worry for myself, because I can never remember whether to hit or to stay at sixteen.

QUESTION: The general question, also. And residents of Boston average spending $823 annually per capita on the Massachusetts Lottery already. Do we need more or less gambling in the City of Boston?

COUNCILOR YOON: To the general question, I am keeping an open mind about casino gambling. I do listen to a lot of the arguments about economic development and the ways that it can generate public revenue. And I will really have to examine the negative impacts and understand them, because gambling addiction is real. Furthermore, it has been stated, we absolutely have to have a vigorous public process and a debate in East Boston. If you think about if a casino were to be proposed for Allston-Brighton, how would you feel? What would you think is the most important thing to do? It's just to have a vigorous public debate about that. In terms of the State Lottery, as many of us know, it's losing money, and the Speaker has pointed that out, and that is being investigated. This is a long historical precedent. We know that when gambling was illegal, it became an enterprise of the underworld, of the criminal elements, and this is why the State essentially took it over, one of the many reasons. But we also need to have a debate about its appropriateness in terms of the neighborhoods and the city in general.

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And also, should the community be required to approve via referendum construction of a casino in Boston?

MATTHEW GEARY: I oppose casino gambling. It's like trying to squeeze blood from stone. Every single time the government's in a revenue crunch they always come down on working people, and increasing taxes on working people. The people who benefit most from casino gambling are the people who own the resorts, who own the casinos... [asked second half of question be repeated]

QUESTION: Should the community be required to approve via referendum construction of a casino in Boston?

MATTHEW GEARY: Yes, I believe in direct democracy, in all its forms. However, when was the last time a community ever got to vote by referendum for any development programs in their neighborhood? The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Mass Turnpike Authority, the MBTA, all these bodies are run by unelected boards of directors, and the community never has any input. The way it's being proposed -- that if we don't support casino gambling, then it will another toll increase on the turnpike, or it's going to be more fare increases on the MBTA -- [inaudible].

QUESTION: Do you support or oppose casino gambling in the City of Boston? And, specifically, if a popular referendum is required, then who should vote on it? Only East Boston and Revere? All of Boston? Suffolk County? Everyone within Route 128?

DAVID WYATT: I think it would be necessary for everyone in the Commonwealth to vote on it, [if it] were it to work. We have an example of a state where we have legalized gambling, and I don't think we would be able to compete in Massachusetts unless we became similar to that state and everything that attracts people to gambling in Nevada, here. I oppose gambling in East Boston. I don't think the Native Americans would be participating in it, and it competes with their stream of revenue which the government has granted them as separate nations in order to address past wrongs. I don't want to compete with them. I want them to get what they deserve.

1 comment:

Christopher Beland said...

Why *should* elected officials care what Cardinal O'Malley thinks about casino gambling? Most Bostonians who are nominally Catholic don't even go to church, much less agree with the church's conservative social politics. Besides, Catholics can hardly consider gambling to be inherently unethical, given what huge fundraisers that BINGO and raffles are for Massachusetts parishes.