Governor Patrick was victorious in his first big test, protecting the Goodridge decision. However, come Saturday, Governor Patrick's job is either going to become a lot easier or harder depending on what happens in the moderately-sized Middleborough. Over ten thousand registered voters, residents of the town, are expected to show up to Massachusetts's largest town meeting ever. They're going to vote on whether or not to accept a deal that would place a casino in their town.
How they vote, however, only makes a symbolic difference. The truth is that no matter what happens on Saturday, it's up to the State Legislature and Governor Patrick to decide whether or not we'll allow a casino in Massachusetts. They're the ones who give the permission. They're the ones who can allow slot machines. Everything is up to them. With Governor Patrick's veto power and ability to frame the debate via bully pulpit, he faces his second big test sooner than he may have liked. Will Massachusetts really become a little bit more like Las Vegas, or will we reject mega-casinos and everything that comes with them?
Governor Patrick has always been somewhat mum on casinos. As no one would doubt, he's exceedingly intelligent. I'm sure he knows all of the relevant facts: casinos may bring some extra tax dollars, but they have a lot of costs associated with them too. The Wompanoags have already admitted that they'll seek state aid for their massive infrastructural needs. There's extra crime, drunk driving and gambling associated with casinos. We already have a great state lottery system, one that would no doubt be effected by allowing casinos. Finally, because of the way casino laws are designed, if we allow one casino, we're allowing a whole lot more (Martha's Vineyard, for starters).
When casinos come to town, local businesses face a crushing burden: pre-casinos Atlanta had a bustling nightlife and lots of entertainment and restaurants. Now, they just have casinos: where there was once over 200 local restaurants, clubs and other similar small businesses, there are now less than 60. Because casinos are massive and all inclusive, complete with restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels, it's the same in Connecticut and elsewhere. How can small businesses compete when casinos have everything? The answer is they don't.
Deval Patrick almost certainly knows all of these things, yet it's still a difficult decision for him. Why? Even if Deval Patrick knows all the pertinent information, most people don't know the facts. When discussing casinos, I've noticed there tend to be three different varieties of people. First, there are those who love casinos and want them nearby: they don't care about revenue, taxes or anything else; these people just want to partay. Then, we have the kind of people who may or may not like to gamble, but see this as a good revenue source. Lastly, there are people like me: people who oppose casinos, either for social or economic reasons. Deval Patrick has to take everyone's thoughts into consideration and include them in his analysis, one he says will come by Labor Day.
I wish he'd come right out and wage this war, though. I know it's not the battle he asked to fight: he has other, bigger priorities right now. However, casinos in Massachusetts will radically change the state. We won't be the same anymore - and this isn't exactly the kind of change that's good. While sometimes it's worth forsaking a proper cost-benefit analysis to bow down to the will of the people, I'd rather a fully engaged and knowledgeable population first. To pass this current test, Governor Patrick ought to use his bully pulpit to show the pitfalls and traps casinos will present in Massachusetts. Then, when the state legislature hopefully strikes the casino proposals down, we can keep moving merrily along in our quest to make this state even better with efforts that are more than skin deep.