Monday, September 16, 2013

Plainville Voters Got A Chance to Vote

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 16, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

Regardless of what happens now in the long and difficult saga of the Plainridge Racecourse and slot machine gambling in the Town of Plainville, one thing cannot be denied.

The people of Plainville, given a chance to study both sides of the issue, spoke loudly and clearly in favor of expanding gambling at the horseracing track located within its borders.  It probably won’t happen, given the politics of the situation and the way they were unfairly cheated by bad management at the track.

But although the potential financial implications are very important for the town and its taxpayers, even more important is that their leaders allowed them the opportunity to make an informed decision.  Regardless of whether a coin ever actually drops into a slot machine at Plainridge, the people have spoken.  There can be no honest debate about whether or not the business in question would be welcomed into the community.

About 37 percent of Plainville voters took the time to go to the polls, even though the likelihood of their decision actually mattering was small at best.  Over 75 percent of those casting ballots voted in favor of allowing the slot machine parlor.  That was about as close to Plainville speaking with one voice as you can get in a situation like this.

A lot of credit has to go to Plainville selectmen and their town administrator for allowing this to occur.  It would have been easy for them to fold their political tents, say they gave it the old college try, and take the easy way out of a no-win situation.  Given all the obstacles thrown in their path along the way, it would have been hard to blame them.

But they did what was necessary to give their citizens the chance to make an informed decision.  They allowed the initial application to go forward and negotiated in good faith to obtain a fair and reasonable contract.  When Plainville voters went to the ballot box, they knew the deal.  They had a reasonable estimate of the revenues, a written document outlining the rules and regulations, and they knew in general what the impact (financially and socially) would be on their town.

When you compare this to the situation in Foxboro, the difference in approach is stark.  Foxboro citizens never got the opportunity to vote on a casino deal because their selectmen never bothered to get the facts and present them.

While they will tell you the election of two years ago was a de facto referendum on the casino issue – it was not.  It could not be because there had been no negotiated deal, no outlining of payments, no written commitment to specific conditions.  Foxboro citizens were prevented from ever knowing what their deal could have been, because their town officials refused to allow it.

Selectmen in that community chose not to give citizens the opportunity afforded Plainville voters, no doubt in large part because of their personal beliefs as to what was best for Foxboro.  But the political aspect was obviously a huge factor also.  Given organized local opposition, Foxboro selectmen reversed their initial position and folded faster than the proverbial “cheap suit”.

There were three other major differences in the Foxboro/Plainville comparison.  First, Foxboro was facing a resort casino – much different on all levels than a slot complex.  Second, Foxboro’s project was to be proposed by an established firm with a strong reputation and financial position.  And third – Foxboro’s town manager manipulated the issue for his own political and professional advantage, while Plainville’s town administrator handled the situation professionally at all levels.

Everyone can argue the advantages or disadvantages of having a gambling facility in your town.  You can weigh the impact of the money, the effect on the community, the traffic, and the moral implications.  It is a difficult decision to make.

Plainville voters made that decision, and they did it without much of the bitterness and divisiveness that has torn apart other communities.  They gathered the facts, discussed it publicly, and decided collectively.

Whether or not the facility ever comes to town, Plainville has set an example for other communities to follow.  When allowed to consider all the facts, people will generally make the choice best for all.

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

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