Sunday, February 28, 2010

Slots: Not About Morality

There's a great article today out on the head of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, Kathleen Conley Norbut. USS Mass developed over the course of the past year into the state's leading group to oppose slots in Massachusetts -- and that's in no small part due to the tremendous efforts of Norbut. She's one of the hardest working people I know -- and I'm glad to see she's getting the spotlight. Not only does she deserve it, but she's one of the most effective people I've met when it comes to discussing why slots are bad for Massachusetts.

Of course, that doesn't stop people from attacking the messenger. In several articles, now, I've had to read some very humorous comments about how Norbut was a 'moralist.' There was one article where someone, who obviously didn't know her, hilariously tried calling Norbut a conservative, evangelical right-wing wingnut. For a person who's elected to the State Democratic Committee, that was pretty hilarious. But, honestly, that wasn't as bad as the public statement a Palmer selectman made in the first link.
“There are positives and negatives to any issue. I think the anti-casino group tends to focus far too heavily on the negatives. They spend so much time trying to control morality issues. I think they underestimate individual responsibility and people’s ability to control their own behaviors,” Burns said. [Emphasis mine.]
That statement really bothers me, especially coming from a public official, because the spin he's creating is tantamount to lying. Never in all the time I've fought this issue have I read a quote coming from Norbut about "control[ing] morality issues." Norbut has repeatedly and emphatically stated, over and over again, that she and her organization are not trying to ban gambling. There's a reason the organization is called United to Stop Slots. Norbut, along with most members of her organization, look at the slot issue comprehensively and have compared slots to other forms of gambling.

The reason to oppose slots is not because it's gambling and gambling is wrong, as Burns attempts to characterize Norbut's position, but because members believe -- and use many facts to prove -- that slots lead to more harm than good, not just for the individual involved, but that person's community, region, state and family. If it was just about individual responsibility, there wouldn't be the kind of opposition that exists to slots that does now. Unfortunately, individual decisions sometimes effect entire communities -- and the slot industry has created a business model that's almost entirely based on creating a significant enough problem to do just that.

That's why Norbut's #1 priority right now is not just fending off slots, but getting the state to fund a truly comprehensive, non-partisan study of all the pros and cons surrounding slots, a study that's not coming from the industry or people who have been paid by it or its allies. Everything she's ever discussed could be answered by such a commission, from just how many state employees would be required to oversee the bureaucracy (Coakley used NJ as a guideline -- and they have roughly 1,000 of them) to its impacts on local communities, from local businesses that would suffer to state lottery funds that would be siphoned off to what investments communities and the state would have to make to mitigate effects of the casinos, from addicts to traffic. Those are all questions that need answers before we allow casinos in the state, at least if one assumes we care what happens to the state and are not just trying to benefit our investers in the campaign coffer fund -- which is another important thing to consider given the millions the slot industry and its allies have poured into the state.

If this was strictly about moral issues, Norbut and USS Mass would be trying to ban all or nearly all gambling. It's not. There are many members of the group, coming from many different member organizations, but the only thing that each and every member and member organization would agree with is that they're opposed to slots and believe slots to be the most addictive, destructive and expensive (to the state and community) type of gambling. That's all USS Mass is about.

Despite what people like Burns or DeLeo would try to claim, people aren't opposed to slots because we think gambling or even slots is "wrong." We're opposed to them because the toll they take on entire regions far exceeds the benefits. We so confidently believe that fact that we're willing for the state to put the thesis to the test and actually commission the comprehensive study in advance -- and then let legislators vote on the merits of it.


Middleboro Remembers said...

Ryan - Nice job explaining the inexplicable!

Surely the industry with their gobs of money has conducted immense polling to determine the only attack that sways people's opinions is their current approach because they lack public and legislative support.

"Inevitable" because increasingly less so every day. They're desparate and it shows!

Anonymous said...

Out of all the other states that have slots now, no one has ever done one of these studies before that can be referenced?

Ryan said...


Let's take a look at Pennsylvania. Not only did they not do a comprehensive study on casinos, but they passed the bill to legalize slots after no public discussion, behind closed doors *on the 4th of July.*

Historically, people don't pass these bills openly and honestly. They do so behind closed doors, with little public debate and only after ensuring the wheels have been greased.

Middleboro Remembers said...

Oh? Do you mean like? ---

Beacon Hill: Secrecy and Closed Door Sessions Prevail

Pro-gambling House members huddled Monday in a closed-door briefing on gambling with industry experts,...
Kathi-Anne Reinstein, the Revere Democrat who organized the briefing, said the session was closed so members and aides would “feel comfortable to ask any questions without having any type of criticism.”

to approve OTBs? And then the media ignores it?

About Ryan's Take