What kind of people are we?
What kind of people does Gov. Deval Patrick think we are? Does he think we will do anything for a buck? Unwilling or unable to fulfill his promise to cut fraud and fat from our boasted state budget, he has discovered an easy solution: gambling casinos.
Anyone watching Ken Burns’ new “War” series is reminded of the valor and determination of what has come to be called “the greatest generation.” What kind of people are we? We are the kind of people who fight tyranny, oppression and poverty. We worked to end the misery after the wars; we worked to allow human and civil rights to move forward. We have harvested the fields, worked in the factories, built the towns. That’s the kind of people we are. Are we the kind of people who will take money from gambling? Is that why our boys died in World War II and our men and women fight in Iraq today? To allow gambling casinos?
Gov. Patrick said in a statement after he announced his support for a casino plan, “My administration will work closely with the Legislature to construct the most rigorous and robust regulatory and enforcement scheme in the country.” Even as the first news came of the casino plan, an advertisement aired on the radio offering the state’s help to people suffering from addiction. The state was spending money for those already addicted to a variety of ailments even before the casino announcement. If this proposal becomes law, there will be even more addiction problems and more expense to the state.
Who does not know the sad case of someone addicted to high risk gambling? If you don’t, take a trip and visit the towns and villages around Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in neighboring Connecticut. The ravages of gambling are all too visible. Businesses sit shuttered; homes are on the block; cars sit on the edge of a property plastered with “For Sale” signs. We heard from a local pastor that the lower floor of Foxwoods has a 24-hour business office that quickly and efficiently settles all debts. Your home, your business, your car: all separated from you with a few quick signatures. However, the pastor reports that the human carnage, the toll on marriages and families, is the worst.
Gambling has never had a good name. From the crucifixion of Christ we have, “and they cast lots for his cloak.” Some Catholics like the gambling games to be sure. After all, churches have sponsored bingo nights which is considered a form of gambling.
We should look behind the slight of hand that promises quick money any time it is offered. Foolish and fraudulent government spending is a problem. It is difficult for an ambitious politician to seek good ways to cut the budget and not have angry people talk back. A prudent governor would be reviewing existing programs and cutting where needed. But few want to do the difficult task.
We are led to believe 20,000 new permanent jobs will be created and an estimated annual income of $400 million will help our state struggling with mounting deficits. The governor believes opening casinos will contribute to growing the state economy by making investments in those areas in need of jobs.
Good political words those: “business” and “jobs.” Doesn’t everyone want a vigorous economy with bustling business and new jobs?
The governor envisions generating hundreds of millions of dollars which he hopes will be used to begin a property tax credit program, fund road and bridge repairs, and also create the regulatory and public safety structures that will oversee the resort casinos. Who wants that infrastructure in their backyard? Road and bridge repairs are supposed to be funded from taxes on those roads. Property taxes are levied by the towns, so why invite the state to dabble in the process? Nice try to gain support for a program by promising property tax relief. We should ask an oversight committee to give us an idea of the balance sheet for that promise.
There are expenses relating to the building of casinos and the protection of surrounding properties. These are dollar costs, but what of the real human cost? Has anyone asked an oversight committee to report on the unintended consequences of expanding gambling casinos? How much has enforcement of drugs, alcohol and prostitution cost in other casino communities?
Psychiatrists and compulsive behavior specialists have shown that gambling can turn addictive much in the way that alcohol and drugs do. A process in the brain causes dependency as it allows temporary relief from depression or boredom. Dr. Hans Breiter of Massachusetts General Hospital, who studies the brains of addicts notes: “The question every society deals with is how far down that road do you go to allow citizens exposure to pleasure that we may not be able to control?”
Some people go to the “resorts” for the shows. Shows can be seen at other theaters. What really comes with casino life are drugs and prostitution. What is next? Will the state announce a program to take a cut from those unseemly addictions as well?
Claim is made that we are losing thousands of dollars a year to out-of-state casinos. When tourists come to our state, they should see historic sites, not a false glimmer god of casino gambling. We should be known for our great revolutionary battles sites, the USS Constitution and the Old Burying Ground. They should come to see the sites which tell the story of the Puritan struggle to forge a life here. They should tour the towns of Lexington and Concord, the bridges and fields where liberty was won, not a tawdry attempt to be another Las Vegas East.
We should fight this pernicious plan to raise money via gambling. Let what happens in Vegas or Foxwoods stay in Vegas or Foxwoods. Who do they think we are?
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited “Why I am Still a Catholic” [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill, Mass.