No One Said This Was Going to Be Easy

The casino era in Massachusetts is only seven months old, but we wouldn’t blame anyone if they thought it was closer to seven years. It certainly seems that way.

Indeed, since passage of the legislation approving Las Vegas-style gambling last November, after years of debate and near misses, things have proceeded in slow motion, according to many observers, who, citing many apparent missteps and controversies, predict only more of the same for the immediate future.

Experts and media representatives assessing what’s happened thus far — including everything from questions about a conflict of interest involving local Gaming Commission member Bruce Stebbins (a former Springfield economic-development administrator) to the embarrassing resignation of interim Executive Director Stanley McGee only three days after he was hired — have used the phrase ‘rocky start’ early and often.

And while they’re right to some extent — the Gaming Commission has often looked the gang that couldn’t shoot straight — should we have expected anything else? This is a huge, complex industry Massachusetts is entering, where the stakes are enormous and the scrutiny is intense.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby might have been glossing things over when he recently told the Boston Globe, “I think it’s gone really well,” in reference to the start of the casino era, but in some respects he’s not far off base. Anyone who expected a smooth, fast ride was not thinking realistically. Crosby hit the nail on the head, actually, when he also told the Globe, “we have to learn to be comfortable with the fact that controversy is inevitable.”

And for evidence of that fact, one need look no further than the rebuke — that’s the only word to describe it — administered to Crosby by state Rep. Joseph Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat and key player in the fashioning of the casino bill last year, after Crosby put forth comments that simply suggested that the commission might license fewer than three casinos and a slots parlor.

The legislation that Wagner helped draft clearly states “up to three” casinos and a slots parlor, but he looked between the lines at Crosby’s comments and reasoned that, if only two casinos were licensed, then it would be the Western Mass. license that would be most in jeopardy, and he was right to come to that conclusion. And he quickly called out Crosby for saying the commission would do essentially what it was empowered to do — look at all the data and make decisions that make the most sense for everyone in the Commonwealth.

This is the way it’s going to be for the next two years, or however long it’s going to take the Gaming Commission to do its analysis and render its decisions. Every word, every step, every bit of conjecture is going to be scrutinized, analyzed, and probably overanalyzed.

And in many ways, all that is good because, despite the urgent need for jobs and revenue in this state — those are the reasons why this measure was passed in the first place — the goal here is not to get this job done fast, but to get it done right, with the understanding that ‘right’ is most certainly a relative term and there will never be agreement on what that actually means, and that’s part of what makes this compelling and maddening.

The rocky, bumpy start for the casino era — if those terms are even appropriate — has certainly been eye-opening. As if there were any doubt, we have been reminded that there is probably nothing that is going to come quickly or easily in the process of bring casino gaming to Massachusetts.

As Crosby said, we all have to get comfortable with the fact that controversy is inevitable — and unavoidable.