Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hypocritical Behavior Concerning Casino Repeal Question

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on September 19, 2014
By Bill Gouveia


            Question 3 – the ballot initiative seeking to repeal the law allowing construction of three casinos and one slot parlor in various parts of Massachusetts – will be voted upon in little more than a month.


            This decision (just one of several critical choices) is extremely important for everyone in the Bay State.  It will also be a classic lesson in how to conduct a political campaign in these modern times.  The side that is successful in framing the question and dictating the parameters of the debate will end up prevailing.


            You might think this is a relatively simple matter.  Those wishing to see casinos built will tout the good things they can provide, including badly needed revenue for the state and many temporary and permanent jobs.  Those opposed will cite the socio-economic negatives they anticipate, and frame casinos as an attempt to prey on the most vulnerable and poor among us.


            That’s why the group seeking to keep casinos legal is called the “Coalition to Protect Mass. Jobs” rather than the “Committee for Casino Gambling”.  Their goal is to focus on the employment boost and economic spark casinos can create.  They would like you to think of this as a giant job fair rather than an actual business.


            The prominent anti-casino group is called “Repeal the Casino Deal” because they want to promote the perception the legislature did something wrong.  They want to convince you special interests won out over our general social, moral and economic well-being.  They’d like you to believe you got cheated, and the only way to right that wrong is to overturn the decision of your state officials.


            Massachusetts Roman Catholic Bishops came out in favor of repeal, which was no great surprise.  But they have not gotten heavily involved in the political process as of yet, largely because it makes the positions of the Church look more than a little hypocritical.


            We are concerned that the Commonwealth will be forced to rely on an unstable form of revenue, depending largely on those addicted to gambling. They are the citizens who are already among the ranks of the poorest in the community – the ones who can least afford to gamble,” the statement by the bishops said.


            It is interesting to contemplate those words as you ride by one of the many bingo games run by Catholic parishes across the state.  You know, the ones apparently attended only by millionaires who can afford to lose.  Perhaps the bishops should repeal those licenses first, as a sign of good faith. 


            But in the end, those seeking repeal want you to think this is about teaching the government a lesson.  They are trying to tap into that ever-present and seemingly endless supply of distrust and anger voters have towards their governmental institutions and officials. 


            They present this question as a way to show “the people” are still in charge.  Who do these lawmakers think they are, passing actual laws after decades of study and analysis?  So what if they gave local municipalities the final say?  Do you really want them telling you what to do?  This is your chance to flex your muscles and send a clear message, 


            Well, maybe not clear, but a message nonetheless.


            They would prefer this election and this question be a referendum on the legislature itself.  They want to get you up on your high moral horse in a stance against the evils of gambling, even though all it may accomplish is pushing the gamblers out of our sight and forcing them to contribute to the revenues of other neighboring states.


            Even the set-up of the question lends itself to confusion.  If you are in favor casinos, you must vote No.  If you are opposed to casinos, you need to vote Yes.


            Voters can’t let either side play to their emotions and fears rather than the facts.  This is not about jobs, or morals, or teaching legislators a lesson.  The real question is whether or not repealing this legally-passed law is a smart thing to do given our circumstances today. 


Whatever voters ultimately decide, it is important to note that a Yes vote will not end gambling, and a No vote will not make us any less moral.


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

No comments: