Gov. Patrick’s casino plan causes ‘deep concern,’ says MCC

BOSTON -- High-stakes gambling opponents decried Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to allow at least three resort casinos in Massachusetts following his announcement Sept. 17. The Massachusetts Catholic Conference called the decision both “disappointing” and “a cause for deep concern.”

Edward Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, told The Pilot that casino gambling affects more than just compulsive gamblers. It has an impact on their spouses, children, community and workplace. It can break up families and cause those addicted to gambling to lose their homes, he said.

“The bishops’ concern from a pastoral standpoint is: ‘What is this going to do to families?’” Saunders said. “The governor seems to dismiss this as the cost of doing business.”

Gov. Patrick has set aside 2.5 percent of the revenue generated by the resorts for public health treatment funds and community mitigation costs, he said.

Saunders added, “We do need economic recovery, but we are going to do this by paving the road with these social ills that will befall families and individuals. I think it’s not good government.”

He also pointed out that the governor recognizes that gambling addiction increases within the areas surrounding a casino and is accompanied by increased drug and alcohol abuse, personal bankruptcy and domestic violence.

Yet, Gov. Patrick argues that the casinos will be “tasteful and appropriate.”

“Casino gambling is neither a cure-all nor the end of civilization,” Patrick said. “On balance, however, and under certain conditions, I believe resort casinos can work well in, and for, the Commonwealth.”

The profits, according to Patrick, are purported to be $450 million in annual tax revenue in addition to millions of dollars raised in bids for the licenses. The governor also stated that the casinos will create more than $2 billion annually in economic activity, tens of thousands of construction jobs and fund transportation upgrades and property tax relief.

His announcement came the same day a transportation finance report recommended raising the state’s gas tax to pay for 20 years of repairs, estimated at $19 billion.

Others, including House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi who supported blocking a bill to expand legalized gambling last year, are skeptical about the financial gains of casinos in the state.

“That has to do with the image of Massachusetts and what we stand for here, and whether or not we want to accept this kind of casino culture and casino economy here in Massachusetts,” he said.

While DiMasi is opposed to the current plan, he promised to review Patrick’s proposal with an open mind.

Senate President Therese Murray, who has come out in support of introducing high-stakes gambling in the Commonwealth, did not immediately endorse the proposal.

“If you look at the revenue and the need for revenues, it’s probably something we want to look at, but there’s a lot we have to look over,” she said. “We have to look at the social and economic impacts.

The Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) has denounced the proposal, calling it “anti-family, anti-poor and anti-true economic growth.” In a statement, Kris Mineau, president of MFI, called it “short-sighted” and “dangerous.”

“This announcement is a betrayal of the ‘good government’ message Mr. Patrick promised would lift all citizens,” he said. “Building three casinos in a state the size of Massachusetts would put virtually every citizen within a short drive of a casino.”

Developers and Mayor Thomas Menino are both backing casinos in the state.

Patrick’s plan comes two months after Middleborough approved a proposal by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to build a $1 billion casino. Tribal chairman Shawn Hendricks said he will read Patrick’s legislation before deciding whether to bid for a state casino or continue to seek federal approval, which could result in a fourth casino in Massachusetts.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Indians have also stated that they would like to open a casino, bringing the possible number of casinos to five. Both the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes have federal recognition.

The proposal would also allow other Native Americans to get their feet in the state door. Members of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, who operate the Mohegan Sun casino, recently signed an agreement with the town of Palmer to pursue a casino and would be eligible to bid for one of the three state licenses.

Saunders said that Patrick is misleading citizens by saying there will only be three casinos under his proposal. Once casinos are allowed in the state, federally recognized tribes from Massachusetts will have the right to go through the federal process to build casinos here.

“I think we are looking at a minimum of five casinos. The governor is trying to soften this,” he said. “Why would the Indian tribes bid millions of dollars to build casinos when they don’t need to do that?”

Saunders also said that although the governor’s plan does not allow for betting on sports and other contests, highly profitable for casinos, the resorts will want that option.

“No big casino operator is going to come in and live for years without sportsbook. That’s where people lose a lot of money. They’ll come in without it, but they’ll fight for it and get it within a year, he said.

Saunders added that he has spoken with economic experts that say the projected profits from casinos in Massachusetts are inflated.

Currently, legislation to authorize casino gambling in the state is still weeks away from being filed. Once that happens, it will be accepted into the House and Senate and assigned to a committee, which will schedule one or more public hearings. Then, the committee will make a recommendation and each branch will vote on the legislation. Amendments may be included and a re-vote may be necessary. If both branches of the Legislature pass the bill, Gov. Patrick can sign it into law.

While the process is a long road, citizens need to begin contacting their local representatives and senators to voice their displeasure now, Saunders said.

“They should start letting their representatives and senators know their position on this. We’re looking at several years, I think, before this becomes a reality, but it’s not time to sit back and be complacent,” he added.

AP materials contributed to this report.