Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Attitude on Gambling is Hypocritical

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 25, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

          We New Englanders are generally known for our thriftiness, directness, and love of our professional sports teams.  We tend to be straightforward folks, and what you see is pretty much what you get.

            Well, most of the time.  But when it comes to the topic of gambling, we are among the larger hypocrites.  We tend to say one thing, but do another.

            New Englanders have always been a bit on the puritanical side.  That is part of the reason why there are few if any real casinos in our part of the country.  But make no mistake about it - we are no strangers to gambling.  Not by a long shot (pardon the pun).

            In this general area gambling officially thrived for many decades.  In Taunton and Raynham, two dog racing tracks existed within a short drive of each other and prospered for many years.  They also employed many people on both a full and part time basis, and were an accepted (if not highly regarded) part of the community.

            Closer to home, Foxboro was host to a harness-racing horse track for several decades.  It was a well-attended facility that eventually ran into disrepair before it closed shortly after the original stadium was built.  It also served the local economy, providing jobs for many locals.

            Naturally, there was the other side to these entities.  They made money by taking it from people willing to risk it.  No doubt many a paycheck was lost in search of that elusive big score over the years, and many an angry spouse cursed the fact they existed.

            But gambling is not primarily a sin of geography.  Just take a ride down Interstate 95 one day and count the number of Massachusetts plates on cars in the parking lots of Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.  Or stop at Twin Rivers in Rhode Island and do the same.  And what does that tell us?

            It tells us we Bay Staters love to gamble.  Not all of us, of course - but a pretty large number.  We have the most successful state lottery in the country.  Ask any gambling expert from places like Las Vegas or Atlantic City about New Englanders, and they will tell you we are known for our gambling.  The casinos love to see those from the Northeast coming for a visit.

            That does not make us bad people.  But as much as we may love gambling, we don't like to admit it and don't seem to like it too close to home.  We apparently enjoy the fact we can claim we don't have gambling here, but with a short trip can still enjoy it.

            The problem is we and our state don't benefit when our gamblers leave the Commonwealth to have their fun - but the other states do.  Now we face trying to locate casinos within our borders so we gain our share of the revenue it provides, but at the same time continue to maintain our hypothetical purity.

            That attitude is making it difficult to get casinos licensed and built here - along with the sad fact that everything costs more to do here than in other states.  Between decision-makers who constantly have their hands out, and those worried about their community's moral values being compromised, the process is taking a lot longer than it should.

            Now to be sure, gambling has its severe problems.  It can become addicting and has contributed to the break-up of families because someone can't control themselves.  I know I have seen it affect my family and friends, and we aren't just talking about casino-style gambling here. 

            But gambling can be compared to activities involving alcohol and tobacco.  We don't ban those activities, nor do we refuse to allow them within our state borders.  Instead we regulate them.  We tax them.  We control them.  And part of the revenue we collect from them we funnel into efforts to educate the public about their dangers.

            That makes a lot more sense than blaming the facilities or state officials for giving so many what they have clearly wanted.  

            State and local officials should spend more time protecting our wallets than our morals.  But you wanna bet they don't?

            Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at or followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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