How many casinos are the ideal for Massachusetts? Reading the editorial page of the September 29th issue of The Boston Globe, one would come to the conclusion that sensible folks are focused on the number three. But, goes the warning of casino supporters, supporting the various proposals on the table could end up planting five such pleasure palaces in the Commonwealth, while excessive and presumably fanatical opposition could lead to “no casino in the region.”
As I read these words, I wondered what would be so bad if the Bay State were to lose out on the casino craze – the latest attempted “easy fix” for our state’s lack of funds to pay for the seemingly (and often realistically) endless needs demanded by the public weal. I do not doubt the urgency of the need for adequate funds to deal with public obligations and infrastructure that have long suffered from lack of resources. But as I listen to the warnings that unless we succumb to the siren call of the Steve Wynn's of the world we will forfeit a proverbial pot of gold, I wonder if we’ve lost all perspective, abandoned our common sense, and, most unforgiveable of all, ignored the lessons of recent history.
It is recent history that is most on my mind: How have gambling casinos performed, in relation to the promises made, in other locales within recent memory? Back in September 2011, I told in the Boston Phoenix the story of a visit my pre-adolescent son Isaac and I made to Atlantic City, with casinos as our targeted venue. We got there, looked around, and we were horrified by what we saw.
There was, of course, glitz aplenty, particularly in Donald Trump’s contribution to the architectural wonders that transformed Atlantic City from a dilapidated slum into a dilapidated slum with a colorful front. My son and I watched as armies of tourist buses unloaded scores of unwary losers about to find out that only the house is a consistent winner in a casino. And many of those losers were probably unable to afford their forthcoming losses. Walking amidst the slot machines was like a tour on the set of a zombie movie, but set in a garishly-glittering palace rather than in a cemetery.
I do not downplay the needs of municipalities for more money. But the acquisition of revenue, at the price of creating additional social problems, triggered by economic losses by area residents who can ill-afford the slots and the gaming tables that forge and feed addictions, is not the answer. It is simply the addition of yet another set of problems in our beleaguered cities and towns, whose residents send more and more money to Washington and an ever-growing and remote bureaucracy. In casino-land, the money goes to yet another group of remote overlords.
Certainly there is an argument to be made in favor of letting area residents gamble away their scarce resources in the unlikely pursuit of gold at the end of the rainbow. The libertarian pull is a substantial one, especially within me, since in many respects I believe that the best government governs least. However, casino gambling is hardly an example of free enterprise at its finest; rather, it is a government-allocated monopoly, conducted with the blessings of city and state. However, it is the cities and states which end up having to pay for any resulting social and economic wreckage that often long-outlasts the economic viability of the casinos that produce the wreckage.
Anyone wanting to verify what I’m talking about should take a young child for a weekend visit to Atlantic City. Casinos are a curse that even a libertarian can come to loathe and fear.