Another immediate cost of casino gambling is the potential growth of gambling addiction. If it is true, as Rep. Dan Bosley wrote in May, that most casino customers come from within a 50 mile radius, then casinos in Middleborough and Palmer would serve mostly Massachusetts customers. Whatever problem gambling is already present within Massachusetts would surely be worsened by the introduction of casinos.
Yet another potential short-term cost is competition with the Massachusetts state lottery. The lottery is a significant source of revenue for Massachusetts cities and towns – approximately $1 billion annually. It is reasonable to assume that a casino would draw in at least a portion of the dollars that now go into the state lottery. Reducing the take for the lottery would place additional fiscal pressure on communities statewide. Even if casinos did not reduce the state lottery's take, it would then mean – as Rep. Bosley wrote in May – that dollars now going for a variety of goods and services in the local economy would be diverted to the casinos – given the fact that most customers would be coming from within 50 miles.
The long-term social costs of introducing casino gambling are even more compelling than the short-term ones. What kind of place do we want Massachusetts to be? What kind of values do we want to stand for – and pass on to our children? I agree with Rep. Bosley that it is naive to think that once casino gambling is introduced that it could be limited to only one site. Once introduced, casino gambling would likely become significant economically – as an employer, property owner, and general business presence. We need to think about what kind of community will evolve with such a presence. For one thing, such a community is likely to be less supportive of education, the arts, and other intellectual pursuits. For an anecdotal, but – for me – compelling example, one can look at the greatest gambling venue in this country – Las Vegas, Nevada. A member of my extended family is a teacher in the Las Vegas public schools. In his view, the fact that jobs in the gambling industry do not require a great deal of education means that neither the establishment nor the electorate of Las Vegas is supportive of education funding. While Massachusetts is not poised to become another Las Vegas, do we want the same sorts of influences on our politics and our values?
Massachusetts is a place that values education – for its own sake as well as its economic benefits. Governor Patrick has already – in his first eight months in office – made a major commitment to the biotechnology industry. This industry will require the best possible education system – to produce the labor force that will support this industry in the long term. Introducing casino gambling in this state would conflict with this goal.
Rep. Dan Bosley eloquently addressed why casinos do not make economic sense for Massachusetts in his Blue Mass. Group piece in May. For this observer, the social costs of casinos would be too high for Massachusetts. I hope that Governor Patrick will not back them.
UPDATE 1: Other bloggers expressing themselves on this subject include Left in Lowell.
UPDATE 2: The Massachusetts Insitute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) will be holding a panel discussion on this topic on Tuesday, September 18, at 8:15 AM at the Omni Parker House in Boston. Details are here.