Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Casinos are bad

I really hope my state representative, Marty Walz, votes against the casino bill that is before the Massachusetts House this week. And should the bill pass that legislative body, I hope my state senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz, will vote no if she's given the chance.

Casinos are bad for local economies, and I base my opinion on personal experience. I was born in southeastern Connecticut when what is now Foxwoods was merely a bingo hall. In the early 90's, the region bore the brunt of that time period's recession.

While a young kid, the defense industry fueled much of the economy in southeastern Connecticut. The sign across the Thames River in Groton still reads, "The Submarine Capital of the World." Problem is, you don't need submarines in a post Cold War era. And you don't need the parts that supply them, either.

In the midst of the economic malaise that affected my friends and family, there arose a wonder in the Connecticut woods. Foxwoods promised jobs, and it brought them. Make no mistake about it, casinos do produce jobs, and Foxwoods created them at a time when they were so desperately needed. Sound familiar?

Except I don't live in southeastern Connecticut today. To put it frankly, there isn't much happening there beyond the casinos. It took a herculean effort a few years back by the region's U.S. Congressman to save the U.S. Sub Base along that same Thames River. Many argued that its shuttering might have been a final economic straw for the region, and I agree with them.

The problem with destination casinos (which is what the Governor and others are arguing for) is that they try very hard to be destinations. I did a report when I was a senior in high school that discussed, in part, the psychological manipulation on display within Foxwoods. There are no clocks. There are few windows. There's a lot of bells and whistles (literally), generating excitement and adrenaline. The whole atmosphere is intended to do one thing---keep people there.

And Foxwoods and nearby Mohegan Sun have succeeded. Between the "wonder of it all"---the restaurants and live entertainment and sporting events and all those darn chances to win---it's no wonder that those that go decide not to leave.

One of my friends went to Foxwoods late last year. She explained how to save cost, she was going to stay in nearby Mystic, rather than on the grounds of the casino. Now, I love Mystic. My parents live there. My brother operated a marine business there, and his wife works there. Mystic is a great Connecticut town, and prior to the opening of the casinos, it was the main tourist attraction in the region. Not any more.

Someone asked my friend where she was going to go to dinner when she was in Connecticut. "I don't know," came the reply. "Probably somewhere in the casino."

To which I suggested: "Why not go out to dinner in Mystic?"

The story of my friend best exemplifies why I don't like casinos. From an economic perspective, casinos do not to contribute to the surrounding communities, but rather take from them.

The wonder in the Connecticut woods still is the wonder contained to the Connecticut woods. The nearby city of Norwich, economically depressed since I was born, is still economically depressed. It's downtown is as empty as when I was a kid. The restaurants of Mystic still receive their best business during the summer from out-of-state beachcombers, not from casino traffic (this is based on a first-hand interview with a waitress). It pains me to write this; Connecticut will always have a very special place in my heart.

Speaking of "wonders," I wonder what we all could have come up with to help spur economic activity over the past three years had we not spent so much time worrying about casinos. My concern is that a casino in Massachusetts will have the same effect as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Why would a visitor to a casino near Boston want to go into the city? Why would they want to peruse shops on Newbury; visit an historic site downtown, or experience the city's varied neighborhoods?

For non-economic reasons, my dad hates gambling. He doesn't even buy lottery tickets. I have gambled from time to time, and I have had a great time visiting Las Vegas with friends on a couple of occasions. Notwithstanding, I am sure my distaste for casinos is somewhat influenced by my dad. Regardless, my opposition to casinos in Massachusetts is driven largely by what I experienced as a kid. I think my reasons are economic. And beyond the jobs casinos can create, I worry that the economic consequences of Massachusetts casinos would be harsh.

*** UPDATE: I heard from Jamie Hellen, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz's chief of staff, that she will vote against any bill for expanding gambling. Yay Sonia!

1 comment:

Marston said...

Ross,

I remember you telling the story about your friend in Mystic when we were out standing the polls on election day.

I agree with you and would vote against expanded gambling in Massachusetts.

What do you think the chances of Representative Walz who owes her Chairmanship position to Speaker DeLeo will cross him on this vote?

Actually if Deleo can twist enough arms and get enough Democrats to flip their votes from last time, he may actually let her vote no as a yes vote probably won't play well in the Eighth Suffolk.