Calling the money coming from casinos “fool’s gold,” Mayor Joe Curtatone publicly broke from Deval Patrick’s camp, with the Somerville mayor shunning casinos. How many other mayors he takes with him remains to be seen.
Calling the money coming from casinos “fool’s gold,” Mayor Joe Curtatone publicly broke from Deval Patrick’s camp, with the Somerville mayor shunning casinos.
How many other mayors he takes with him remains to be seen.
“There are a lot of questions and concerns” about how casinos will affect Massachusetts, he said. “What will it mean for communities? How will it change the face of the commonwealth?”
Curtatone, as president of the Mass. Mayor’s Association, played host at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theatre Wednesday to heads of cities and a panel of scholars from area schools who have been studying the impacts casinos would have on the state’s economy and social fabric.
The panel consisted of Clyde Barrow, director of UMass-Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis, Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts professor of political science, and Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College associate professor of management.
The collective picture painted by the three experts was one of inevitability: Casinos are on their way, whether the state likes it or not.
“Clearly, there’s going to be some Native American casino,” McGowan said. “One way or another, there will be a casino.” What matters is how the state government chooses to use the revenue that the casino would generate.
Mayors on Wednesday voiced concern that casinos could fundamentally change the state’s image and economic drive, and not for the better.
Worcester Mayor Konstantina Lukes said that allowing a casino to become a source of state revenue would be “a public policy failure.”
“If the state is relying on recreational activities as a source of revenue,” she said, “we’re admitting as a country that we have lost our innovative edge.”
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan noted that his constituents had not voiced opposition to the governor’s proposal. He said that the revenue the casinos would bring in would help the state, but acknowledged that casinos did bring problems with them, such as compulsive gambling and crime.
But, he said, “If they could do it in a first-class way,” then he believed that the positive impacts of casinos in the state would outweigh the negatives. Casinos could be good for the state’s economy. “You don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” Dolan said.
Berry, who noted that his father was a compulsive gambler, said that Patrick’s casino plan is a direct consequence of the sweeping promises he made on the campaign trail. The promises needed revenue, Berry said, and “Speaker DiMasi and the state Senate were not interested in raising taxes.”
Berry said the political capital Patrick lost during the first months of his incumbency slipped away, and that the combination of a need to generate revenue and a need to gain political capital necessitated “a big victory. He needs to look like he vanquished somebody,” Berry said. Bringing the casinos to the state would bring him back into the public’s good favor, Berry said.
Barrow said that there are more benefits than negatives. “The benefits are obvious ones,” he assured the audience. “Economic, fiscal, tax revenues and new employment,” would all come to the towns and surrounding areas, and “other than problem gambling, the impact you’re talking about is the same as any other big development.”
“New London County has gone from the highest rate of unemployment to the lowest rate,” he added.
Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll was afraid that the casinos would draw tourists away from the established tourist destinations in the state. She said that there was a part of her hoping to capitalize on their arrival, but a part of her felt that the change would not be a positive one.
Berry said that if he were mayor of Salem, “I wouldn’t want a casino anywhere near my town. You have something special, and you’d jeopardize that.”
Mass. Municipal Association Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith said the presence of casinos would “change the way Massachusetts will be seen across the country.”