There's Really Only One Unassailable Argument for Casinos in Massachusetts

Friday, February 11, 2011

It is long past the time for the Massachusetts legislature to license casinos, say the various voices of the gambling industry, its supporters and sympathizers.

They argue that Massachusetts desperately needs the jobs that casinos would bring during construction and operation, as well as the taxes that gambling profits would yield everafter.

As the state continues a painfully slow recovery from the Great Recession, the odds are good that the legislature and governor will sanction three resort-style casinos this year: one each in Boston, the New Bedford-Fall River area, and the western part of the state.

Don't bet on slot parlors at existing racetracks ("racinos") being part of the deal, however.

Casino foes have hardly been ineffective during the interminable State House struggle over the expansion of gambling. Their view that the social costs of casinos grossly outweigh their economic and tax benefits has always had traction.

And their warnings that casinos will cannibalize the Massachusetts State Lottery, one of the most successful in the nation, and hurt established businesses in entertainment, sports, recreation, dining, etc., keep echoing in the building.

As I see it, there is really only one unassailable argument for casinos.

And that argument leads to the conclusion we should have a single casino in downtown Boston, and not at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Revere, which is the most likely outcome of a successful casino bill this year.

I'll explain:

We don't outlaw cigarettes, booze, fried foods, mixed martial arts, sunbathing without sun block, or TV shows like "Jersey Shore," all of which are harmful.

We have a free country. You and I can do what we want, within the law. We like it that way.

I've never gone to Mohegan Sun, and never will. I never buy Lottery tickets. I don't even play cards with my cute little nieces and nephews, no matter how politely they ask.

But that doesn't mean that I should be able to prevent my friends who love blackjack from having a convenient, fun place to play the game.

In freedom-loving, 300-million-strong America, it should not matter if a casino would employ 100 or 1,000 or if it would pay $1 million or $100 million in taxes.

Provided that reasonable gaming regulations and public safety measures are in place, it should only matter that a casino owner is willing to build it and that adult gamblers are willing to come to it.

Otherwise, you have one group of citizens in The Land of the Free telling another group: You can't gamble here. It's bad for you, bad for your family, bad for society.

All the great, wonderful and exciting cities of America offer innumerable opportunities for work, recreation, entertainment, and artistic, cultural and religious expression. In these cities, especially, it is hard to make the argument that a casino should not be part of the mix.

[Next: Why downtown Boston is the place for a casino.]

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