I would like to congratulate the Governor and the complicit legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for selling out the people whom they are solemnly pledged to represent. I am referring to the recent passage of casino legislation by the state senate and house of representatives, one of the governor’s pet projects which has been absurdly marketed by private interests as a cure-all for a troubled economy. To our elected officials who voted in favor of this legislation, particularly to those who said that the vote was inevitable, I can only say, “Shame on you all.”
Touting the type of “independent study” (produced by Spectrum Gaming Group of Linwood, New Jersey) that smacks of lobbyist financing, the elected proponents of casino gambling predict the creation of 15,000 permanent jobs and 9,000 construction jobs, along with the generation of $350 million in direct revenues and another $250 million in associated revenues. This bogus study, which has not been made public and which the state senate used as justification for its vote, was specifically designated to evaluate the positive economic impact of the proposed casinos, while specifically ignoring the social impacts. To me, this sounds like the tobacco industry promoting the “benefits” of smoking based upon employment in convenience stores and the tax income generated from cigarette sales, while ignoring trivial side effects like cancer, heart disease, and addiction. We do not need independent studies based upon hypotheses when we are surrounded by real-world examples in our own back yard.
Visit Atlantic City to see the positive effects of casino gambling, as you drive through the urban squalor and decay which persists nearly to the edge of the Boardwalk. Look to Connecticut, where the recession has taken its toll on casino revenues (and the subsequent state “windfall”). Then look to New York State and the actual impact upon employment. The fact is that most jobs pay between minimum wage and $13.00 per hour, and most are not full-time – freeing the casino operators from the responsibility to provide basic workforce benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation time. In Connecticut and New York, where casinos fall under the provisions of tribal ownership, workers have been shown to have little or no legal recourse in matters of worker’s compensation, age discrimination, and sex discrimination. The fact is that workers do not benefit from the casino industry. Construction is at a standstill in Las Vegas, where the most recent (May 2010) unemployment numbers came in at 14.1%, nearly 50% higher than the national average. Las Vegas is also distinguished with the highest mortgage foreclosure rate in the United States, at 5 times the national average. The only people who will benefit from casinos in Massachusetts are the out-of-state casino management companies, the predominantly out-of-state contractors, and the umpteenth generation descendants of Native Americans who are willing to sell out their ancestral heritage.
I feel particularly sorry for the cities and towns which have become the unwitting pawns in the game of casino proponents, including the oft-mentioned City of Fall River and Town of Palmer. What brilliance on the part of the legislature! Engage two of the state’s most economically depressed municipalities where, in desperation, the voters are willing to try anything when they feel that they have nothing to lose. The proposed 300-acre casino site in Fall River, which the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is hoping to purchase, was formerly designated as the location of the South Coast BioPark, a proposal that would include a multimillion-dollar bio-processing facility for UMass Dartmouth. Do our Governor and our Legislature really believe that economic growth will be found in casinos rather than cutting-edge technology? Do the people of Palmer really believe that a casino is the key to the economic revitalization of the Quaboag Valley? Worse than a big box retailer moving into town, the numbers of local jobs lost is likely to far exceed the numbers of jobs created.
Economic recovery must be based upon manufacturing and new technologies, particularly green energy development, along with small business development. The saddest example of where we are headed can be seen in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In its glory days during World War II, Bethlehem Steel employed as many as 300,000 workers, when it built 1,121 ships – one-fifth of the U.S. Navy’s wartime fleet. Its main plant in Bethlehem employed a workforce of 31,000 and was the second largest steel foundry in the United States. Bethlehem Steel produced the steel that was used in the construction of the George Washington Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and the Hoover Dam, among many other American landmarks. Bethlehem Steel closed in 1995 – after 140 years of operation – as our jobs moved overseas. Today, the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, which opened in 2009, is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel. Ironically, the casino developers had difficulty securing the 16,000 tons of structural steel that were required during construction. A year after its opening, the Sands employs no more than 1,000 people, is hemorrhaging money, and recently laid off 80 employees.
Our manufacturing jobs have moved to China, a country with a cultural propensity for gambling, but where the government is overseeing the construction of a new wave of industrial manufacturing plants rather than casinos. The only casinos in China are the 31 properties in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, a so-called “special administrative region” (along with the former British colony of Hong Kong) which was turned over to China in 1999, where legalized gambling has a 150 year history, and where casino tourism accounts for 50% of the local economy in what is essentially the sole Las Vegas of the world’s most populous country. Is China building casinos anywhere else? The answer is no. When will we ever learn?