There are a number of people who have the mistaken impression that it's possible to create the perfect casino, or incorporate slots in Massachusetts through the perfect plan. Many other states have been down the same road, of course, and all of them failed -- but we're the Hub of the Universe, so certainly, we can get it right. Right? Well, for people who "just" want to capture the revenue we "lose" to Connecticut, or for the people who think we can "mitigate" the effects and build the "perfect" casino, I thought I'd design one which would a) only aim for the revenue of Massachusetts citizens already playing in Connecticut or those who would play in that sort of casual fashion and b) create jobs and tax revenue without irreparably damaging regional businesses and communities. Sound difficult? It is, but this is an academic question, so let's do it.
First and foremost, the slot bill would have to include a provision which would limit the amount of money players could spend on slot machines and gambling tables, say $50 a week, which would allow players to play casually while mitigating the worst effects for problem gamblers, but capping their damage to $2,600 a year -- a lot of money, but even for the most addicted, much less than they'd otherwise spend. Doing so would allow all those Massachusetts-to-Connecticut gamblers to spend the money they were spending in Connecticut here, while "mitigating" the damage done to families and communities by problem gamblers who often spend many magnitudes more than that. (No doubt the Massachusetts Teachers Association, who's accountant from a few years ago who embezzled $800,000 from the union to pay for his gambling addiction, would appreciate this proviso.)
Then, as Martha Coakley already stated, we'd need to create a state-run gambling commission that would oversee slot parlors and casinos, an entirely new state bureaucracy with around 1,000 employees (the Pike would have only wished they could have had it so good). In addition to regulating the casinos and collecting the state's tax dollars, they'd also have to ensure each slot parlor and casino joined a network that would keep track of who's reached their weekly cap, so they don't just head to the next casino to circumvent it. That's neither a pretty nor inexpensive thing to do, and would require a lot of work, not to mention make players less inclined to gamble because of privacy issues. I'm sure the casinos can come up with a Magical Pony to solve that potential hiccup, right?
So, we've now successfully captured those Connecticut dollars and mitigated the worst of the effects on potential problem gamblers (though, certainly, we'd need to shoot off at least 5-10 million a year from our tax revenue to pay for addiction services, but that's just slim pick'ns, right?). Now we just need to protect our regional and local small businesses, as well as nonprofits, within at least 50 mile zones surrounding each casino. How do we do that?
Well, first we ban any theaters inside the casinos larger than roughly 200 seats -- the state's theater nonprofits are being overly generous and pleading for a 350-seat cap, but that's just because they're so desperate that there be a cap at all. Even a 350 seat theater at a casino will lead to many nonprofits around the state to combust, as well as many restaurants, pubs and cafes nearby them. Additionally, casinos and slot parlors would have to be banned from including any non-competing clauses in their contracts when they book any musicians or comedians.
Second, we need to target retail and restaurant space within the casino. There would have to be much less restaurant and retail space within those casinos than there would be demand, otherwise there would be no reason to actually leave the casinos. Of course, the casinos know that -- which is why they build their casinos in the way they do. Premium restaurants and non-gambling entertainment venues (ie dance clubs) would have to be outright banned or severely capped, while only allowing for a few places to grab a quick bite and some small retail space for, perhaps, a gift shop for anyone staying at the hotel (if we should even allow it to have a hotel). Additionally, casinos and slot parlors would have to conform to all state and local business practices, as well as banned from practices that other businesses couldn't compete with -- ie smoking would have to be banned, drinking hours would have to conform to local and state standards, and we'd have to ban free drinks, because there's no way local businesses could compete with that.
We'd also have to show the casinos that Massachusetts means business. We'd need to create massive penalties for violating any of these rules, so casinos don't decide to just ignore them and pay any minor fine they accrue along the way. Give a free drink to slot players and get caught? You lose your liquor license. Allow someone to exceed the $50 gambling limit? The gambling license is suspended for a month. Additionally, the casinos would have to know that they couldn't just accept these provisions to get their foot in the door, then use their massive influence later to get things changed the way they'd want it. That's a very tough task to do -- likely, the most practical way of doing it would be to make these provisions a part of the license. Changing the terms of the deal then would have to necessitate buying an entirely new license, which Massachusetts would have to charge tens of millions of dollars for.
Think any racino, casino or slot parlor would want to build one of those casinos in Massachusetts? I doubt it. No such casino could ever be profitable. Let's face it, folks, there is no magical pony here -- we can't have our cake and eat it, too. And if ever these problems could be solved, then we'd have to start talking about how many hundreds of millions to charge them to offset losses to the state lottery and additional expenses they'd cause to regional cities and towns. There is no perfect casino, except if perfect is defined by "the House always wins," because, no matter what, if the state legislator votes for the special interests who have the Speaker on speed dial, Massachusetts loses. Our communities lose. Our people, our families and our neighbors will suffer.