Retired Senator's Letter to Editor on Casinos Surely Rankled Ex-Colleagues

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sue Tucker, who retired from her Merrimack Valley seat in the Massachusetts Senate at the end of the 2009-10 legislative session, was never known to mince words. She was always strong in her convictions and blunt in her language.

For example, in her brief, March, 2010, message announcing her intention not to seek re-election, Tucker thanked the voters of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury for electing and re-electing her to office, reflected on her legislative priorities and accomplishments, and emphasized that, "Above all, I hate rip-offs, whether public or private, and that is the reason I am working to keep predatory gambling out of the Commonwealth."

When Tucker walked out of the State House for the last time as a senator in early-January, 2011, one of the state's most passionate and eloquent opponents of casino gambling and slot parlors left the political arena. Her heart, however, remained in the fight, as evidenced by a letter from her published in the Boston Globe on Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11, under the heading, "Unfortunately, it's too late to bar door from wolves of gambling industry."

The letter spanked the Globe for an editorial it published Nov. 8, raising questions about the casino bill subsequently enacted by both branches of the legislature, and blamed the newspaper for helping to create the political atmosphere that allowed the casino bill to move forward in the first place.

That Tucker would take on the region's largest, most influential newspaper was not surprising. She was always pretty fearless. That she would also give a backhand to her former colleagues while hitting the Globe was surprising. Read her entire letter to see what I mean:

"Your Nov. 8 editorial 'Flawed casino legislation leaves public interest too vulnerable' is loaded with irony. Several years ago, it was The Boston Globe that opened the door for casinos in Massachusetts. When your editorial board flirted with casinos, you gave every politician in this state permission to let the wolves in. Although I never stopped fighting the notion that we could gamble our way out of budget deficits, the day the Globe flipped on this issue was the very day I knew that casinos would eventually prevail.

"Tuesday's editorial bemoans the flaws and potential for corruption in the current casino bill. I am not privy to your editorial board's internal debate on this issue, but did you honestly think Massachusetts could do a 'clean' casino bill? It is called an oxymoron. Where in the country has a clean casino bill emerged from the legislature and remained corruption-free through the years?

"The gambling interests have a playbook to get what they want, and the name of the state is irrelevant. They see a market; they buy the political establishment; they hook the state on revenue; and then they own the legislative-regulatory framework.

"Your editorial concludes, 'If Massachusetts marries the casino industry on these terms, it will be stuck with the consequences forever.' Too bad that the Globe helped officiate at the marriage ceremony."

Tucker's main point, that the Commonwealth is about to become a business development partner of the casino industry for purposes of adding to the public treasury and will therefore be susceptible to pressure from the industry down the line, has validity. In testifying against an earlier casino/slots bill a few years back, she raised this same issue, warning that casino operators would be able to eliminate restrictions in any original enabling legislation by claiming those rules were putting them at a disadvantage with competing casinos in neighboring states. A Commonwealth that had grown dependent on casino/slots revenue would be hard-pressed to resist those claims, she suggested.

But the Tucker letter assertion that the casino industry had bought the political establishment in Massachusetts was not grounded in fact, no matter how much the industry may have spent on lobbyists. Knowing as she does that Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg of Amherst is the Senate's point man on casino legislation, that Rosenberg has studied the industry and its experiences in states across the nation for years, and that Rosenberg is a person of unquestioned integrity and dedication, it was startling to see her make that statement so blithely. Tucker worked with Rosenberg for a long time and knows him well. She had to have known her words would cut him (and other former colleagues) deeply.

Without any sign or evidence that any legislative leader actually sold his vote to anyone in the casino industry, the most anyone can fairly say is that legislators sold themselves on the concept of casinos being a revenue-producer and a jobs-creator. I'm no fan of gambling, but given the recessionary times and the word of independent experts that three casinos and one slot parlor will, when all is said and done, generate roughly $750 million a year for the state, it's not hard to see how any honest legislator could be sold on this bill.

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