Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sen. Rosenberg's Wacky Email

Senator Rosenberg just sent out his latest Rosenberg Report, an email to his supporters. It's lead was about casinos... and not in a good way. Of course, politicians always try to frame the debate, which is okay, but his arguments were unfortunately a bunch of malarkey. Let's check it out.
Like all good, spirited political discussions, this one has had its share of hyperbole. Some have gone so far as to suggest that casinos will mark the beginning of the end of our civilization, while others have voiced the belief that casino revenues will solve all the Commonwealth's revenue problems.

As I'm sure you know, the discussion over casino gaming kicked into high gear this week with the House of Representatives taking up a proposal by Speaker Robert DeLeo. The Senate will follow suit in the coming months.

The truth, of course, will be found somewhere in the middle.
Right off the bat, I have two huge problems. First, while there are people alluding that the revenue casinos will generate will solve a whole lot of problems -- which is utterly false -- no one on the anti side suggested it "will mark the beginning of the end of our civilization." That, my friends, is called a Straw Man. What opponents have said is that it's bad policy and will cause a lot of problems -- which should be reason enough to be opposed to it.

Secondly, if the truth of the matter is going to be found in the middle of 'the end of civilization,' and casinos will solve all our problems,' wouldn't it be kind of a nice idea to know exactly where that middle can be found? Those are two radically different outcomes, "the middle" seems like something that could vary greatly. Hence why we need a cost-benefit analysis, so we can answer the questions of how much tax and lottery revenue casinos will cannibalize from local businesses, how many local businesses and jobs will be lost to casinos, what the impact will be on regional cities and towns, etc. Those are wicked important questions that Rosenberg has no answer to and isn't curious to find out about, at least enough to say he wants a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis before the vote takes place.

The email actually gets worse from there. He goes on a spree where he casually dismisses or distorts really important questions and just throws his opinion out there as if it held the weight of facts -- no attempt to convince people of their merit.
So-called "destination resort casinos" are fundamentally different than the state lottery. Scratch tickets are widely available. Destination resort casinos are, as the name implies, places that will attract people who will spend their discretionary income there instead of someplace else.
Yay, distortion. He makes it seem like resort casinos are just a fun little place that "attracts" people from far-off, distant lands. Not true. Casinos are far more pernicious than the state lottery -- specifically their slot machines. That's why, statistically, slots double the rate of gambling addict within 50 miles of the casino, racino or slot parlor. It goes from 2.5% of the country to 5% within those areas.
The Massachusetts Legislature is being squeezed by the recession, and the attendant decline in revenues and rise in unemployment rates, the highest in decades, while facing increasing demands from citizens for public services. Jobs and revenues are the main drivers of the debate.
He says that as if casinos are gauranteed to create longterm jobs and revenue. We simply don't know the answer to that, though quite frankly it's doubtful. Professor Kindt, for example, says that for every dollar generated in revenue, there's $3 in expenses from things like crime, cost to prosecute and lock up slot-addiction-related crimes, costs to cities and towns, etc. This blog has looked at how much damage even one slot addict can do -- such as the MTA union employee who embezzled $800,000 from the MTA to pay for his addiction. One person cost the MTA $1.3 million dollars, including $500k for the costs of legal fees and accounting fees... just to figure out how much the person actually stole. Are people really sure casinos will create a net-plus of jobs and revenue? Why don't we actually do a real cost-benefit analysis first to find out.
If we choose expanded gaming as one tool for addressing the need for jobs and revenues, do we allow slot machines at racetracks, resort casinos only, or some combination of the two? That is the heart of the debate that is taking place in the House of Representatives.
That's only "the debate" if Senator Rosenberg feels like dismissing the humanity of courageous Representatives like Ruth Balser and Carl Sciortino who fought tremendously hard against slot machines and have fought to bring sanity to Speaker DeLeo's particularly absurd bill. For example, does anyone know a majority of the legislature voted against an amendment that would have required any Massachusetts casino to label their slot machines with the percentage chance they have of winning, just so people know the risks? Or how about the amendment that 93 representatives voted against which would have included pathological gambling as something that had to be treated as any other addiction in our fairly recent law on mental health -- an amendment that passed, by the way, just a few years ago, but was voted down under DeLeo's leadership.

Rosenberg ends his emailed casino blast on this:
My point is simply this: When the going gets complicated, it's time to be rational. There are many ways to make a bad decision, but maybe only one way to make a good one. And that's what I want with regard to gaming -- a good decision.
What an ironic statement, given the fact that he's not standing up there, demanding a truly comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. How can one be "rational" when they don't have the facts?

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