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Guest MINDSETTER David Schaefer: City Council, Please Do Your Job

Monday, June 03, 2013


Professor Schaefer is in the political science department at Holy Cross.

The time has come for Worcester's City Council to perform the function of a democratically elected, representative legislative body by taking on the responsibility of deciding whether or not the City is going to continue courting the proposal for a slot-machine parlor offered by Rush Street Gaming.

A wealth of information has been brought forth citing the irreparable harm that a slots parlor is likely to cause to Worcester. Beginning with the Research Bureau's 2007 report on the effects of casino gambling in other communities and its 2013 report on slots parlors, and including MIT professor Anita Dow Schull's 2012 book Addiction by Design; the testimony of Rutland resident Deborah Greenslit on how slots ruined her life; the column by noted Harvard economist and urbanologist Ed Glaeser in last Wednesday's Boston Globe on how a slots parlor would constitute "a bad deal for Worcester"; and other sources available on the website VoteNoSlots.com, it has been demonstrated that slots parlors cause an abundance of social ills without redeeming economic benefits to the surrounding community.

As Schull explains, today's electronic slot machines are designed to generate addictive behavior in a way that the "one-armed bandits" of old never could. They are built to empty "players'" bank and credit card accounts - to which they can be electronically linked - as expeditiously as possible. They are associated with such social pathologies as bankruptcy, family breakup, crime, alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide. And far from contributing to a favorable business climate, they are ruinous to a community's image (Who wants to establish a legitimate business in Atlantic City? The prospective slots operator, Rush Street Gaming, has established a notorious record of disregard for law as well as for the well-being of the communities in which its casinos and slots parlors operate. It has been fined over half a million dollars for such violations as allowing minors, and persons who had voluntarily placed themselves on "do not gamble" lists, to use its facilities. It has used its high-priced legal talent to successfully knock down its property-tax assessments.)

Now, it has informed City Solicitor David Moore that it no longer plans to finance an "upscale" hotel in Worcester as part of its proposed deal with the City - though that hotel project was the bait previously cited by the City Manager and several Councilors as their reason for favoring the slots project. Rush Street has been stalling its "negotiations" with City Manager O'Brien, apparently confident that it can use the millions of dollars at its disposal, along with the local political operators it has hired, to win a popular referendum on the slots parlor, without making any significant concessions to the City at all. It has even refused to authorize payment for the City to hire consultants to negotiate a "host agreement" with it - even though that money is supposed to come out of the $400,000 application fee that Rush Street originally paid the Commonwealth in order to become a qualified bidder. One suspects that Rush Street doesn't want the City to be able to hire competent consultants - lest they pose demands that it doesn't feel like satisfying.

Given the latest developments, it is expected that the City Council will again discuss the slots issue at its June 4 meeting. In previous meetings, members of the Council have tried to duck the question by saying that since they believe in "democracy," they want the issue (once a host agreement has been negotiated) to be decided by "the people" themselves. But this is not the way that American democracy is supposed to operate. The American Founders, as is explained in the Federalist Papers, chose to establish a representative rather than a plebiscitary democracy, because they were all too aware of the turbulence, folly, and outright injustice that often characterized the direct democracies of antiquity. Hence they gave the President and members of Congress relatively long terms of office, while establishing an independent judiciary - with the expectation that individuals elected to office would engage in a deliberative process among themselves (subject, of course, to having to face the voters at the next election) that would be more likely to take account of all relevant facts and result in relatively thoughtful decisions than if the people themselves - most of whom normally focus rather little attention on public issues -were asked to decide the issues in a direct vote.

Similar considerations animated those who designed the various state constitutions, and even municipal governments, whether they follow Worcester's Council-Manager system, a "strong mayor" system, or some other form. We elect our councilors with the expectation that they will devote the time that most of us lack to considering all the ramifications of the policy issues that come before them. We do this not because we think they are somehow innately better qualified to govern us, but because it is their job. The time is long past when Worcester's City Council could kick the slots can down the road by saying that they are waiting for more "facts." The relevant facts have been made available to them in the multiple sources listed above - as well as in the testimony of at least 50 Worcester citizens from various walks of life and economic situations, and from across the political spectrum, an overwhelming proportion of whom appealed to the Council at its meetings and hearings not to authorize the Manager to negotiate a slots parlor agreement at all - just as Foxboro, Boxborough, and Holyoke’s governments have rejected casino and slots proposals. Through its cavalier treatment Rush Street Gaming has indicated how little it thinks of the people of Worcester. Its officials, led by greedy billionaire Neil Bluhm, believe we are suckers who can easily be gulled in a referendum by the prospect of easy money that will never actually arrive. Please, councilors, do your job on June 4 and SAY "NO" TO SLOTS.


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