Friday, July 27, 2007

Oh, What a Surprise: Casinos & Lies, Lies, Lies

The most offensive thing about this new casino deal is the fact that it's getting pushed so fast people aren't going to know what hit them. As I talked about on Tuesday, the 45 page document that the town of Middleborough will vote on tomorrow was only posted on Monday, giving town voters less than a week to vet and analyze it. If this were a project at Beacon Hill, professional legislators - who's job it is to vet major projects like this - would have had months to analyze all the aspects of this deal. Yet, ordinary voters, in a town meeting organized so fast that even Secretary of State Bill Galvin is nervous, are expected to be able to properly analyze this in such a short time?

Well, it appears as if - even in the course of a week - some of the lies, deceit and trickery are spilling forth. According to the Boston Globe, to get the town to pass the project, the Womponoags 'sweetened the deal,' promising the town 11 million dollars a year - up from the 7 it had previously promised. Citizens in the town thought they were going to get fleeced and demanded more, but the casino only pretended to budge. Here's what the town's Finance Committee found:

About 10,000 of the 15,000 registered voters in Middleborough are expected to attend tomorrow's Town Meeting and to vote on the deal. As town officials finished preparations for what is expected to be the largest Town Meeting in state history, Middleborough's Finance Committee released a report recommending a no vote and promised to speak against the deal at the meeting.

One issue in the committee's 5-to-2 vote against the agreement is skepticism about the hotel tax revenue. "That $4 million could turn into $1 million," said the committee chairman, Richard Pavadore.

The casino has projected hotel billing and occupancy rates that just don't line up with reality. They don't even stack up against the numbers Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods charge, despite the fact that with another casino in close proximity to them they'll all probably suffer some in terms of occupancy and billing rates. Any fool knows that with more casinos, the hotels they have become cheaper. Heck, someone could go to a Las Vegas 4 star hotel for less than a hundred bucks a night.

Clyde W. Barrow, a gambling researcher at UMass-Dartmouth, said the casino market is too competitive to allow one casino to charge significantly higher room rates. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are about 70 miles from Middleborough.... Using the existing market as a guide, Barrow said, he calculated that the hotel would provide Middleborough about $2.3 million a year in tax revenue, rather than $4 million.

Here's what it all boils down to: we just don't know. Maybe this project really would create so much revenue for the state of Massachusetts that it would be worth all the costs associated with a casino. Given the data we have from around the country, I highly doubt it, but I'll admit: we don't know. We haven't had any serious time to vet this project. It's been pushed so fast that all the efforts on it going forward have been in planning its passage - not planning whether or not it ought to be built. That's a serious mistake.

There's a reason why Democracy is slow. Sometimes, it may frustrate people: no one wants to wait around for committees to investigate, then have their hearings, then vote to move it forward, then have a conference committee, then investigate it as a conference committee and, then, finally have both houses vote on the merits. However, there's a reason why we go through all those steps: to protect the people of Massachusetts. Instead of following the normal process, the Womponoags have sprung this project on a town that, like most across Massachusetts, needs money bad. Of course, they're interested in the millions a year a casino would promise.

It's an attempt to get the town to pass the project so they can pressure the state legislature to allow it, because they'd be vilified if they didn't. I can see the Globe headline now: "State Denies Middleborough Millions a Year." It wouldn't play nicely, even if they were looking out for everyone's best interest. Because of the way things have been going, we may not have discovered the casino fudged its numbers: heck, people only had a week to read the 45 pages of fine print.

The experts of town finance in Middleborough, their Finance Committee, have overwhelmingly voted against the project: that's step one in a brief vetting process. Let's hope the rest of the town says "hey, hold on," and votes this project down. We just don't know enough about it. We haven't investigated all the ins and outs yet. There's no reason why we can't go back and pass it later, after its been seriously vetted. However, to pass it now, without all the facts, would be a serious misjudgement.


Mass Marrier said...

This is definitely one of those Rhett Butler things -- don't you worry your pretty little head about it.

Well, given that people won't have a chance to assimilate the info, the proper vote can only be no.

Anonymous said...

The town meeting was a joke, right down to the opening anthem, complements of Marsha Brunell's daughter-in-law. More alarming, it concerns me that Attorney Bond, or was he wearing his selectman hat when he authored the agreement on behalf of the residents of Middleboro for the proposed casino? Talk about a conflict of interest! Mr's Bond's wife even took part in the plea towards Middleboro residents to vote "yes" - talk about a bunch of propaganda!

Anonymous said...

Peter Porcupine has jumped into the fray with both hooves. This is possibly the only local blog where she hasn't made an absurd argument why the casino is a good thing or a snarky comment about the opposition.

PP hasn't been on the side of good in years. That she's this worked up is another sign that something is rotten in Middleboro.

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