Bay State Rightly A Little Leery About Casinos

The Hartford Courant

Massachusetts residents must have one eye cocked on Connecticut as they assess the possible impact of casino gambling on their quality of life.

Since early September, voters in four Massachusetts towns that were prospective casino locations have rejected proposals by casino developers. On Nov. 19 in Milford, Mass., the vote was a smashing 2-1 defeat of a proposal by Foxwoods, the first full-service casino operator in Connecticut.

Surely Connecticut's two-decades-long experience with casino gaming, its ups and downs and current faded-rose status, has offered its neighboring state some clues.

Make no mistake. Bay Staters don't turn their noses up at gambling in the generic sense. Two years ago, after long debate, the Commonwealth's legislature passed a bill allowing a full-service casino in each of three regions: western Massachusetts, southeastern Massachusetts and greater Boston.

In a recent statewide poll, over 60 percent of adults said they favor gambling in the state.

But in the same poll, by 55 percent to 42 percent, respondents said they didn't want a casino in their own community.

Not in my backyard.

The only proposal approved west of Worcester has been an MGM Resorts casino planned for Springfield. And even there, voters gave it a less-than-landslide 58-42 win.

In Connecticut, casino gaming has meant jobs (not necessarily high-paying) for thousands of people and a stream of revenue, now dwindling, to the state treasury as the result of the compacts between the Indian tribes and Hartford.

Over time, casino revenue can't prudently be regarded as a reliable revenue source for the state. And the location of the huge gambling-based entertainment megaplexes in small-town southeastern Connecticut has caused a host of traffic, addiction and crime problems and the death of some off-reservation restaurants and small businesses.

A sense of the big casino experience in Connecticut can't help but have informed the thinking of Bay State residents — especially many of those living in prospective casino towns.

But Massachusetts is expected to find locations for casinos sometime in 2014. What it must do now — what Connecticut did not do — is plan to effectively fight the social problems that gambling causes.

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