Thursday, October 11, 2007

Would Casinos Lead to Less Money for Towns?

In today's lead editorial, the Globe correctly notes that Patrick's casino plan doesn't meet his campaign promise of cutting "the property tax by reinvesting in cities and towns." While half of the money casinos would bring the state would go to property tax relief, that doesn't help cities and towns address rising costs, even while they forsake many demands. Countless cities and towns are closing schools, laying off employees and diminishing services: they have no choice.

Unfortunately, casinos are guaranteed to do two things that are a direct threat to the coffers of cities and towns. First, everyone and their mother admits the state lottery system will take a hit with the introduction of casinos. The only question is how big it'll be. What people may be forgetting is that a huge portion of state lottery money goes directly to cities and towns - isn't that why we have the state lottery to begin with? So, right off the bat, we're talking about cities and towns potentially losing tens of thousands a year in income they've relied on.

Secondly - and this is a bit more tricky - we know that between 30-70% of casino revenue isn't new revenue at all, it's just revenue redistributed from other sectors of the economy. It's no surprise that wallets are a net sum game - that fifty someone blew on the casino last night was fifty they won't be spending on their family at the local restaurant. Revenue that would be taxed and sent to the general fund is instead going to go into the casino fund, which won't go back to cities and towns. That's tens of thousands more that cities and towns are likely to lose.

Furthermore, no one knows just how much business casinos will kill with their shops, all-inclusive services, open bars, massive and cheap hotels, with gambling and entertainment to lure people in. However, as I've said a few times, Atlanta went from having over 200 restaurants, bars and clubs to having a little over 50 after they legalized casinos. A lot of businesses, especially in the vicinity of a casino, are going to get hit hard. That means people are going to lose jobs and businesses will go under. Again, the only question isn't whether or not it'll happen, but how many jobs and businesses are we talking about? Combined with lost tax revenue, lost jobs and businesses could be a devastation visited upon cities and towns across Massachusetts.

So, the question is "will casinos lead to less money for cities and towns?" It's an important question because there's no bigger problem Massachusetts is facing than their cities and towns, struggling to keep up decent services, even while constantly raising taxes. Sadly, no matter how anyone looks at it - especially given Governor Patrick's plan - the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

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