Time for the State to Go ‘All In’ on Casinos

There is considerable speculation going on these days about who holds the cards — figuratively speaking — when it comes to casino gambling in the Commonwealth and the prospects for it becoming reality.

Is it Gov. Deval Patrick, who leaned against the concept of gambling as a candidate during last fall’s campaign, but may be may be more open to the concept now that he has an aggressive list of projects to advance and few revenue sources at his disposal? Or is it Attorney General Martha Coakley, who must set down the rules by which casino owners can operate and has cautioned that casinos are “not some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”?

Most would say it’s House Speaker Sal DiMasi, an historically strong opponent of casinos who’s been quiet of late as the governor, AG, and seemingly everyone else in Boston awaits the results of several studies on gambling being conducted concurrently.

From our view, though, it’s the residents of the state that do, or should, hold the trump card in this highly combustible debate. None of those aforementioned elected leaders will stand against casinos if they’re convinced that the majority of voters and decision-makers are for them. Whether that majority exists is still a matter of opinion, but we believe it should.

Why? Because the debate has, in our opinion, shifted on casinos — from whether they’re a good thing for society in general (of course not) to what the state should do now that casino gambling is a firmly entrenched part of that same society.

In other words, the debate isn’t about revenues any longer, it’s about common sense. Can a state desperate for revenue to fund new ventures in education, transportation, and economic development — and with a real dearth of creative and/or politically attractive ideas for funding them —afford to lose out on perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue now going to neighboring states?

We believe the answer is ‘no.’

Our stance on casinos hasn’t changed in more than a decade. We view it as a less-than-ideal source of revenue and jobs, but one that should nonetheless be pursued because no one in this state seems to have a better idea, and no one wants to pay higher taxes. Cynics would consider casino gambling a tax — one that would disproportionately impact lower-income, less-educated residents — and it may be just that. But it would be a tax that could improve the lives of most state residents while directly impacting few.

We are perhaps more vocal in our support of casinos now because we have seen Patrick’s wish list and are intrigued by it. The list includes early childhood education for everyone, free tuition at community colleges, and proposals to build and repair college classrooms and laboratories, repair infrastructure, and spur economic development and new business sectors. We’d like to see these proposals funded, and without sinking the state deeper into debt in the process.

Opponents of casinos are right when they say these operations are not cure-alls, and they have a point when they observe that casino gambling will probably bring the state only between $150 million and $450 million annually — numbers that represent a tiny fraction of the state’s $26 billion budget.

But this is revenue that the state will probably not gain from any other sources beyond higher taxes, which are unlikely given the current political climate, and could advance some of the governor’s proposals.

And that’s why it’s time for the state — meaning its residents and elected officials — to go all in on casino gambling.-