South Station Has Multiple Advantages as a Massachusetts Casino Site

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One of the beauties of the blogosphere is that it allows anyone to play the game, "If I Were Running the Show."

It allows me, for instance, to mount my electronic soapbox and now proclaim:

If I were running the show in Massachusetts, I'd license only one resort-style casino, and I'd make sure they put it in the area around Boston's South Station, an historic and still thriving crossroads.

As I see it, there are at least five advantages that South Station has in the casino sweepstakes. Other sites may have some advantages, but none has as many as South Station.

The edge goes to South Station for:

1. Accessibility. Now that the Big Dig is history, it's usually a quick and easy ride to South Station via the Mass. Turnpike and the Central Artery, and via rapid transit, too: bus, subway and commuter rail. It's also just about a 10-minute cab ride from Logan Airport in most situations. Given South Station's proximity to the Fort Point Channel, a casino there should also be considered accessible by water. A shuttle boat currently operates between the airport and Rowes Wharf/Boston Harbor Hotel. All that that shuttle, or any other boat, would need to service South Station is a new dock on the channel.

2. Infrastructure. The roads and rails to South Station are plentiful and in relatively good shape. There is also parking to be had at times in the surface lots of the South Boston Waterfront and at the new Convention Center, and in the many nearby hotels and office buildings (especially at night).

3. Complementarity. It's close to the Convention Center. Expense-account-armed conventioneers tend to be in a good mood. Hey, guys, let's take a walk over to the casino tonight! Hotel guests who have come to Boston for other reasons will choose to patronize the casino on the spur of the moment, and casino patrons will choose to stay at the hotels within easy walking distance of South Station or just beyond.

4. Synergy. A casino would add a major option to an already vast array of attractions in our state capital, the largest city in New England. A lot of the folks who will come to try their luck at the casino will end up spending money at downtown restaurants, theaters and nighclubs; riding Boston's tour buses; filling up the sidewalks on the Freedom Trail, etc.

5. Buzz. A casino would inject a new element of excitement into the city and perhaps raise its stature a notch as a world-class city, a true metropolis that accommodates national and international travelers of every interest and taste. Boston will never be Macao on the Charles. Charter flights for high rollers will never overwhelm Logan. But the revelers who want a drink and a few hands of cards at 2:00 a.m. will at last be delighted to find a game in the Pilgrims' old town.

During his campaign for governor last year, Republican Charlie Baker often acknowledged the potential downsides of casino gambling and suggested that it might be a good idea to start with licensing just one casino.

If it turned out that casino advocates were right about the social impacts, and the economic and tax benefits of casinos, Massachusetts could then license one or two more, Baker reasoned, but if the prophecies of casino foes were borne out, we will have minimized the harm by having one, not three, of these beasts to deal with.

That approach makes a lot of sense.

If that is the course Massachusetts ultimately takes, the most sensible spot for that sole casino will be somewhere in Boston. And if I were running the show, it would have to be built at South Station.

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