I realize I haven’t posted for months. Frankly, I’ve been overwhelmed with work. Between serving as a chaplain in a transitional housing shelter for veterans and serving as a church pastor, time to write a post has not been on my side. Tonight, though, I got some time as I am taking a week of study leave off from church to prepare for a weekend meeting I have at the national office of the United Church of Christ. I also decided to skip a lecture on the common good.
Though we are voting for statewide offices in Massachusetts in a couple of weeks, the election seems pretty quiet. As I’m an unenrolled voter I don’t get barraged with phone calls asking me to support one candidate over another. Plus, I don’t watch any television (because I have no time) so I don’t see advertisements either.
One of the four questions on the ballot this year seeks to “prohibit the Massachusetts Gaming Commission from issuing any license for a casino or other gaming establishment with table games and slot machines, or any license for a gaming establishment with slot machines; (2) prohibit any such casino or slots gaming under any such licenses that the Commission might have issued before the proposed law took effect; and (3) prohibit wagering on the simulcasting of live greyhound races.” (from the Massachusetts Information for Voters published by the Secretary of State) Basically, the question seeks to repeal the authorization for casinos that was passed several years ago in Massachusetts.
Voting yes is a vote against casinos.
Proponents talk about casinos as an economic stimulus in the local economy. It will create jobs during the construction and operations. It will keep people in Massachusetts who already travel to Connecticut to gamble from taking their money out of state. Plus the commonwealth gains some significant revenue from the fees the casino developers will pay and the ongoing fees to keep gaming in the Commonwealth.
I say this is lazy economic development. Casinos make money by taking money from people’s pockets. We can call it gaming, but it’s really gambling. Gambling’s basic premise is the winner wins because s/he causes everyone to lose. Or expressed economically, the collective amount of money everyone brings to the poker table goes to one person, which means everyone but one person leaves the table without money. Note that the overall wealth at the table did not increase. This is hardly consistent with the premise that a healthy community relies upon the common good.
Good economic development tries to put money into people’s pockets. Classically, it requires money from outside of the community entering the local economy and through the multiplier effect (meaning the external dollar gets re-spent multiple times) it generates income in the local economy thus increasing the community’s wealth. An example is the recent announcement that the new transit cars for the Boston’s mass transit system will be built in Springfield. The company will hire workers who will spend money in the local economy at restaurants and stores. As those businesses improve, their employees will receive more money, who in turn will spend it locally. Thus the re-spending of that dollar multiple times.
Alternatively, economic development tries to leverage local assets to increase overall wealth in the community. I keep thinking about local churches leveraging some of their endowments to free up capital in their communities and thereby opening opportunities to provide credit to people typically shut out of traditional credit markets. (But that’s another post for another day)
While casinos will bring external dollars into the local community during construction, it won’t be the case once they open. Furthermore, by claiming that Massachusetts residents will no longer have to go to Connecticut to gamble, it undermines the rationale as an economic driver. All casinos will do is redistribute existing money. Like the poker table, they won’t increase wealth.
Furthermore, casino proponents conveniently overlook the economic failure of Atlantic City, the first community outside of Nevada to legalize casino gambling in the United States. It never delivered on its promises for an economic revitalization of that city. Today as the casino market has been saturated on the East coast, four of twelve casinos in that city closed this year.
Here’s another hitch. The New York Times published an article on Foxwoods back in 2012. A lot of the article was about its poor financial health. One point really stuck out for me, though. Referring to the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas in October 2011, the author wrote the following:
“Millions of younger Americans who like to gamble are playing online poker, hosted on offshore sites. They may never become casino habitués. So at the same time that brick-and-mortar casinos are proliferating, the demographics may be working against the industry. The A.G.A. is lobbying for legalization of online poker in the United States and for strict regulation of it — a rare case of an industry’s seeking regulation. The strategy would likely put those who already own casinos in a favored position in the new online world. ” (Michael Sokolove. Foxwoods Casino is Fighting for Its Life. March 14, 2012. )
I remember in seminary I had to write a paper on a contemporary issue through the lens of the first nine chapters of Proverbs. I chose casino gambling and equated it to the harlot who beckons:
“I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you! I have decked my couch with coverings, colored spreads of Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took a bag of money with him; he will not come home until full moon.” (Proverbs 7:14-20)
I cited economic research which noted how casinos changed local economies such that the mix of businesses did not support the local community but the casinos and that visitors to the casinos drove past local businesses directly to the casinos. Casino patrons didn’t support local restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues because they ate, shopped, and found entertainment exclusively in the casino.
I don’t see much value in casino gambling in Massachusetts. It has yet to prove itself an economic engine outside of Nevada. It is a false promise best summarized by the conclusion of Proverbs 7:
“With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. Right away he follows her, and goes like an ox to the slaughter, or bounds like a stag toward the trap until an arrow pierces its entrails. He is like a bird rushing into a snare, not knowing that it will cost him his life. And now, my children, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Do not let your hearts turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths. for many are those she has laid low, and numerous are her victims. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.” (7:21-27)