Sunday, June 01, 2008

Why are Casinos like the Borg?

A) They just keep coming back.

B) They both think resistance is futile.

C) Their aims are so devious that they make you feel dirty inside.

D) All of the above.

The answer should be pretty obvious after anyone reads this report (pdf), from Common Cause. It's a detailed listing investigating the amount of money casino lobbyists have spent in this state, as well as the influence they wield because of it.
Powerful interest hired top-tier lobbyists in 2007, expending a total of $1.5 million, combined with another $258,222 in campaign contributions from these lobbyists to our public officials, and another $63,000 in campaign contributions from gambling executives, for a total of $1.8 million spent to expand gambling in Massachusetts. The effort has so far failed, but with the deep pockets of the industry, they are sure to mount another campaign soon.
From 2002-2007, Treasurer Cahill received the second largest sum of campaign contributions from the gambling industry. During that same time span, Attorney General Reilly received the largest sum - which shouldn't be surprising, given the fact he was the presumptive next-in-line for the Corner Office until Governor Patrick stormed in. The result? Cahill is pushing casinos with a gusto seen by few others in this state, while Reilly included expanding racetracks to allow slots as part of his platform to the Corner Office (no surprises here that he lost).

Obviously, given the casino battles of the last few months, this list would look very different if 2008 was factored in. What we do know is that 2007 set a record for casino-lobby spending, at $1.485 million. Surely, 2008 - with not one, but two major slot votes - will set a new record by the end of the year.

This is what the Bay State would look like under Governor Patrick's plan. The circles represent where the rate of problem gamblers would double and where crime will go up.

My friend and fellow anti-casino warrior and radio host Leo Malley has long said that "casino lobbyists only need to win once, while we need to win every time." Not only is he right, but he's not the only one who gets it. Here's a quote from former AG Scott Harshbarger from the report.
I think the reason we don't have a casino today in Massachusetts is because, in fact, the people have decided... The only people that won't accept it are the people who want the casinos. Because they figure they can stay at this longer. The Legislature and the Governor move on to the other issues, but they never stop. They're constantly focused with highly paid lobbyists - the best in the state - whose job it is to stay focused on one central goal: to get that door open.
So why, if we keep defeating casinos, are these battles such a big loser for all of Massachusetts? Not only could some form of slots slip through at some point, but all this fighting is a waste of our time, as this blog has been saying from the beginning. It's an argument the report makes, as well.
The state and local governments have spent considerable time and effort on numerous proposals to expand legalized gambling. There are, however, opportunity costs in politics, just as there are opportunity costs in business. Time and effort to consider casino and gaming legislation takes away from time available to spend on other issues. Professor Richard Hall of the University of Michigan, who has studied the role money plays in politics, has concluded that '[c]ampaign contributions and lobbyists do not buy politicians' opinions as much as they buy their priorities.' The problem, as Hall sees it, is 'that by focusing on some constituents, the politicians no longer have the time to focus on issues that help other constituents.
It's a phenomenon that even happens in states with casinos - where lobbyists continue to argue for ever more expansion, especially in cases where the continuing expansion butts heads with other states. That's not a new argument, either: New Hampshire's already made it clear that if Massachusetts legalizes slots, so will NH. And then Maine will expand, as will RI. Connecticut is already expanding in anticipation. The pie-slices get ever smaller, so the gambling industry continually asks for more and more, just to try to keep up with the profits they enjoyed in previous years.

As the report suggests, since there are other, better proposals on the table than casinos, it's the public that's truly paying the price - we're the one's losing out on the good ideas, while the politicians and lobbyists hobble about bickering and wasting time over the bad ones. Massachusetts expects - and should demand - better. After all, this isn't some cheesy sci-fi flick at the cinema - it's the future of our state that we're talking about.

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