Tuesday, July 8, 2014

You Can Bet On This Election...

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 7, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


There was always going to be a statewide election this fall, including a race for Governor.  But now it will be different from any other ever held in the Bay State.  Hold on to your hats folks – the political winds will soon be escalating to hurricane force level.


When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that repealing the current “casino law” could be placed on the ballot this year, the political rules and landscape were immediately and severely altered.  You can throw out all the usual election philosophies, rules and assumptions if this question is on the same ballot as our elected state officials.  It’s a sure bet this election will be all about legalized gambling.


Massachusetts has always been both hypocritical and schizophrenic when it comes to betting.  It is as though our puritanical roots and our liberal leanings can only find common ground in how we project our public position on gambling.  We say one thing, while doing another.


In general, Massachusetts residents like to gamble.  We have long been home to one of the most successful state lotteries in the country.  We flock to casinos in Connecticut and other nearby states in search of winnings.   Casino operators in Las Vegas will tell you Massachusetts residents are prime customers.  And underground and illegal sports betting has been supporting the families of Boston bookies for many generations.


But we don’t like to see it where we live.  We prefer pretending we are above it all.  Casinos are for visiting, not having within our pristine borders.  Oh no – we can’t have that, even if it does bring in billions in revenue and ancillary business.


Gambling preys on the poor, we are told.  It is socially unfair.  And the gaming companies are unfeeling corporate entities that bring corruption and backroom deals to our already political state.


Corruption?  Here in Massachusetts?  Surely you jest.  You mean to say there may be corporate entities seeking to spend money and peddle influence in order to advance their own success?  Oh my, how out of the ordinary that would be compared to other types of industry located here.


And apparently we will save those “poor people” by making sure legalized gambling is located just on the other side of the state line.  That way we can fulfill our gambling urges while still maintaining the façade that we are above the fray.  Apparently, appearance is everything.


Legalized casino opponents would rather see us drive residents to illegal betting, where there are no regulations to ensure fairness and the collection efforts tend to be a bit more extreme.  The poor are still victimized in this scenario, but it is harder to see them from the comfort of our high moral perches.


But now gambling will be the main issue, with money being tossed around on both sides – especially the pro-casino groups.  And as we know, money is the lifeblood of politics in America.  Massachusetts is no exception.


This will be a major issue in helping voters to choose candidates for statewide office.  While most running for office would like to ignore it and let the people decide the issue, they cannot and they know it. 


You need only look back a few years to Foxboro for an example of how this next election may be affected.  In 2012 gambling technically was not on the ballot, but everyone knew the local election was a referendum on allowing a casino locally.  The turnout was tremendous, way above average.  Candidates handily lost their races with vote totals that would have easily won any other year.


At least 20 states have legalized casino gambling.  Others have “Indian” casinos run by Native American tribes.  As with other industries, some are more successful than others.


But gambling itself will not be on the ballot this fall.  No matter how the electorate votes, Massachusetts residents will continue to gamble.  The question now is, will they do it here in a regulated or non-regulated setting and will the state collect taxes and benefit from new construction and new jobs?


This approach didn’t work during Prohibition, and it won’t work now.


One thing is certain - between today and November, pollsters are going to make a boatload of money.  You can bet on that.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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