Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Links Casino Proponents Together?

In the fight for casinos, there's one thing that links all of the proponents – all the different partners in the effort to bring slots of some kind or another to Massachusetts. As little as any of the parties would like to admit it, several of the speakers seemed to own up to it at various points during yesterday's casino hearing, like Bob Haynes, when he said this is about the jobs, “Period.” Or, the lady from the state's Chamber of Commerce, when she lied through her teeth and tried to say that building casinos would actually help local businesses. No one bought it, but it didn't stop her from trying to make something up, something she thought some of her allies would want to hear.

It's The Unquenchable Thirst for More. Some call it greed. The definition I came up with for greed myself, when I first started thinking about what binded this Unholy Alliance, is an intense desire to acquire as many resources as possible, without regard to how they're acquired. It certainly fits the bill for casino proponents in Massachusetts.

Greed. Seem like a strong word? I agree. I don't begrudge anyone for wanting work. I've, at various points in my life, including recently, struggled to find employment. I don't begrudge a business for trying to be profitable; My father and stepmother owned a travel agency for decades and it was exceptionally important to my family's ability to survive. Business does drive the economy – and a good economy means more opportunity for all.

Similarly, I've fought for local candidates in probably dozens of races, all because I care about our state. The ability of our state to maintain its core services is critical – and at risk. I could hardly begrudge State Senators and Representatives for looking under rocks for more revenue.

To some end, all of that is fine. I root for businesses to be profitable. I root for more union jobs – or jobs of almost any kind. I certainly root for the state to find more revenue, to protect and expand all of our core services. However, none of these things happen in a vacuum. A great thirst to excel is a fine thing, but an unquenchable one, one where you'll do questionable things to succeed, is just dangerous.

When does greed become a bad thing? When it starts to blind. When prototypical allies become the opposition because they want something so badly that you can't go along with it, suspect greed. That's what we saw happening here, today. Unions are desperate to add to their numbers, because numbers make them more powerful, not to mention improve the quality of life for workers. I'm desperate for that to happen, too. But going after casinos, creating an unholy alliance with some of the most evil corporations in the world not named “Haliburton” or “Blackwater,” is just being greedy for jobs.

The same goes for the state. At the base, a state is supposed to help protect its citizens. Instead, we have the three leaders of this state trying to form an equal partnership in the profit off our state's vulnerable, addicts. Almost all the profits of the entire industry come from the most frequent players. At Harrah's, 90% of the profit comes from 10% of the players. At some other casinos, it's 80% from 20%. No matter how you slice it, though, casinos live and die off preying on the vulnerable. They prey off them through the use of machines that are psychologically designed by professionals; they're designed to put players into a “zone,” which is a form of a high, and make the games as fast as possible, keeping players playing as long as possible.

The state has not and will not, at least without major backlash, authorize and fund a major, nonpartisan study that looks at all the pros and cons, all the expenses, all the factors, to make sure this is a good idea. Is there any stronger proof that Massachusetts's top politicians have been so driven for revenue that they've become blind than the utter refusal to do this kind of a commission -- to see?

Even the casinos and “gaming” companies are allowing their drive for profits to become a blinding greed. The entire industry pursued a strategy of such rapid expansion that it forgot to be responsible and plan for the future, rationally.

The consequences? It over saturated the market, creating a system where there were rapidly diminishing returns, taking on debt loads that can only be described as gargantuan – all in the drive for more and more, all without care as to how the economy performed, because the industry viewed itself as recession proof. Like I said, blind greed. There is a fine line between seeking profits and greed – and because of the blindness greed can cause, businesses would do well not to be too greedy.

So, we now have a situation where each and every proponent of gambling is pursuing gambling not because it's good policy, but because it seemingly advances one, small part of their agenda. However, because no comprehensive, nonpartisan studies have ever been done by any of these parties, they're blind as to if this will actually help their immediate goals, or any kind of goal. Casinos very well may reduce, not add to, the state's budget – as many nonpartisan academics have found. Casinos may very well end up costing the state jobs, because of the hit to small businesses – and also the very large and real social problems that arise from the ashes of a casino. Finally, even the casino companies could lose out, taking on more massive debt to attempt the construction of a major project in Massachusetts, at the very same time casino revenue is down and over saturization is up. In the end, even if the proponents win, they may lose, because they were too blinded by their unquenchable thirst to see what was right in front of them: This is not a good idea for any of the proponents.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

why not outlaw smoking and drinking? combined they both inflict more harm and cost on society that gambling. that is why this is such nonsense. we pick and choose the vices that are OK based on what?

Gladys Kravitz said...

Ryan I can't believe you such a thoughtful piece after such a long exhausting day (and night) - not to mention having to hold a Flip video recorder in your outstretched hand for hours.

You've made great points about when some 'greed' is no longer 'good'. I've seen it over the years again and again with my own eyes and felt it in my own 401K. I hope our State is smarter than to fall for this current scam.

Ryan said...

Anon 8:46,

A few differences. First, we create all kinds of policy to reduce smoking in this state and country. Every time we raise taxes on cigarettes, the rate of smokers goes down. Statistical fact. We spend a lot of money every year to help get people help to get treated and we spend tens of millions every year to convince kids never to start.

On the other hand, states and gambling companies become equal partners in addicting new people. Instead of trying to reduce that addiction, casinos always come back for more ways to get people addicted (to make more money) -- and they usually get what they want. As Senator Tucker said yesterday, "The deal will change."

We have to look at legislation at a policy level. Does it make policy sense? Will it cost the state money or make money? Will it drain the state lottery? Will it hurt local businesses -- and how bad? How will it effect the population? Those are all questions that need to be asked.

Anonymous said...

Smoking kills hundreds of thousand each year in the USA. Policy is bullshit. If we are going to become the nanny state then smoking (and drinking) should be banned. Gambling destroys less lives in 10 yrs than smoking does in one. Ban then all or ban none!

Ryan said...

I appreciate that sentiment -- and you are more than welcome to go on a Don Quijote quest to ban smoking, perhaps someday that would actually happen, but it's not going to happen now and I'm not going to support it now because of that.

A few comments, though, that I believe make my position consistent:

1. I like to use my time efficiently. Cigarettes are already here just like KENO is already here; I'm not going to waste my energy on things that are already here, but I will spend time to ensure things that aren't here aren't allowed here legally, whether that's slots (a form of gambling) or cocaine (a drug).

2. We ban the worst drugs like we ban the worst, most addictive kinds of gambling in Massachusetts.

3. I actually do support policies that may reduce or mitigate the bad things that are already here, be it higher taxes we have on cigarettes (proven to reduce the amount of people who smoke), or to reform to the state lottery to ban things like $20 tickets, which would go a long way to reducing the impacts on existing addiction to gambling in this state.

Anonymous said...

We ban the worst drugs? We ban pot! We legalize booze! Inconsistent, yes. you and your casino loathing pals are hypocrites. Fucking strange as well.

Ryan said...

Anon 2:30pm,

Perhaps you missed it, but the voters of Massachusetts just voted to un-ban pot, at least insofar as a criminal offense. Furthermore, while most alcohol is banned, there are certainly various kinds of alcohol which are not allowed in this country. They're not common, but they're there.

Furthermore, you're completely ignoring my other arguments. We allow all sorts of bad things, sure. Does that mean we should allow other bad things, which are also bad policy? No. And do we have to get rid of the things that are bad right now by outwardly banning them? No. That's why I support things like raising taxes on cigarettes. It may take time, but in time people just won't smoke.

Anonymous said...

And you ignore the fact that 100s of thousands are killed every yr by drunk drivers, alchoholism, and lung cancer. The rest of us are left to pay for the carnage. Casinos at least don't kill people.

You argument completely ignores this reality all in the name of you being a liberal nag who fucking knows better than every one else.

Bring on teh casinos and bring on the jobs. And while we are at it lets let greyhounds run which is what the good Lord intended that they do. Sorry Cory Theil or whatever your name is.

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