MA Casino Opponents Fight for Repeal Option on 2014 Ballot
Friday, October 04, 2013
“We feel repealing this legislation is the best way to go,” said Steven Abdow, of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, which opposes the Casino Deal. “We’re encouraging churches and people to participate in this petition drive against state sponsored predatory gambling.”
The drive is spearheaded by Repeal the Casino Deal, a coalition of Massachusetts organizations and concerned citizens advocating for the repeal of casino legislation.
“When you look around the country there’s not really a single state in the country that is better off for having a casino,” said John Ribeiro, chairperson of Repeal the Casino Deal. “Crime rates go up and property values go down. Casinos get subsidized, while they cannibalize other businesses.”
“Casinos are going to enjoy unfair protections other businesses in the state,” he said.
Bad for Small Businesses
Abdow agreed. A former small business owner, he said his fight against casinos was initially motivated by fears his family’s restaurant would suffer.
“Many small businesses rely on discretionary income,” Abdow said. “Casinos suck up discretionary income from the communities, and the first places to get hurt are entertainment venues like restaurants and convenience stores that sell lottery tickets.”
In addition to his concerns for small businesses, Abdow worries about the vulnerable populations he says are deliberately targeted by casinos.
“As Christians, Jesus tells us to work for those who are vulnerable. Casinos are devastating for vulnerable people,” he said. “Forty percent of their revenue comes from problem gamblers. People compare them to scratch tickets, but there’s no comparison. I’m really outraged that our elected officials would resort to state sponsored addiction to raise revenues in the Commonwealth,”
“The Church has a responsibility to speak up for the vulnerable,” he said. “It’s not a moral issue for us. We don’t think people shouldn’t gamble. It’s not a moral statement; it’s a social justice issue. We’re trying to protect vulnerable people.
Beyond moral and economic concerns, opponents of casinos in Massachusetts also cite their perceived unfairness of the system. Contracts, they say, are awarded unfairly and without proper background checks. The casino lobby wields immense power on Beach Hill, and has been able to relax regulations and push through proposals against the will of the people, said Ribeiro.
“The Casino law was crafted by legislators and special interests for their mutual benefit; the legislature gets a windfall of revenue and the casino developers get state-sanctioned regional monopolies that will be actively promoted by a government that relies on them for revenue,” said Brian Ashmankas, Campaign Director at Repeal the Casino Deal. “Meanwhile, the enormous social, economic, and fiscal costs are passed down the line to the communities and the people. This is a fundamental betrayal of government mandate to serve the people.”
The Gaming Commission Responds
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission says these allegations are baseless, and that they strive to make the process as fair and transparent as possible.
“The Commission strives to ensure that its decision-making and regulatory systems engender the confidence of the public and participants, and that they provide the greatest possible economic development benefits and revenues to the people of the Commonwealth. The Commission is also taking many steps to reduce to the maximum extent possible the potentially negative or unintended consequences of the legislation,” said Elaine Driscoll, Director of Communications for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
“We take seriously our responsibility to conduct a transparent process and have put many measures in place to be open, inclusive and accessible to the public, “she said. “We welcome everyone to stay posted through MassGaming.com or connect with us through our social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook and tune in to our live streams.”
Ribeiro, Ashmankas, and Abdow say the only way to address the concerns of the public is to put the Casino Deal’s potential repeal to a statewide vote in November 2014. That, they say, will settle whether the majority of Massachusetts residents want casinos in their state.
“This is the only opportunity for people in surrounding communities to have their say,” said Ribeiro. “A lot of these impacts can be felt as much as 50 miles away. If you look at the three different regions where casinos have been proposed, everyone in Massachusetts is in the impact zone.”
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