There are a lot of great ballot initiatives out there this year, nearly all of which I have signed. Minimum wage, the Bottle Bill, ending corporate citizenship. Paid Sick days. These are all extremely important initiatives that show how much of a leader Massachusetts is in the country. They are a testament to proud progressive activism in this state. As the deadline to collect signatures nears, I have faith the hard work of groups like the Sierra Club and Raise Up MA will succeed in getting them on the ballot, and the citizens of Massachusetts will pass them and continue the tradition of leadership.
I want to make sure there is another one on everyone’s radar as well: the initiative to repeal the 2011 Expanded Gaming Law. The organization Repeal the Casino Deal has been working tirelessly to collect the signatures needed, but they still need your help. I say ‘they’, but really I mean ‘we’: I volunteered to collect signatures and have been acting as the Greater Boston Area coordinator. The truth is we are a new organization without years of experience doing ballot initiatives, and many of our volunteers are out collecting for the first time.
My progressive values force me to be a part of this movement. The role of government can never be so cynical as to work with large corporations against our own citizens. Not only do they get special breaks (like, for instance free alcohol when bars can’t even serve discounted drinks) to compete against our local businesses, the money they make comes from those who can least afford it. It is not a “tax on people who can’t do math”, it is a cowardly tax on the poor, the addicted, and the vulnerable – and one that destroys families and our economy with it. It is not just poor state economics, it is blatant economic injustice. My grandmother, who is 91 years old and has fought for fair housing, economic justice, and against nuclear weapons her entire life (and even to this day – thats her on the left), called me recently to thank me for fighting casinos. Our family is from Washington, where casinos are pervasive and they are forced to live with the consequences of casinos every day.
There is no silver lining of the casino economy. Our state stands to lose up to a billion dollars in their profit (~300m for each casino in profit, plus 1 slot parlor), all of which will go to the out-of-state owners in Nevada or Macau (“You know that we are primarily an Asian company,” Steve Wynn told investors) and thousands of local jobs. They are here not for our benefit, but, more obviously, for their own. They see our strong economy, and they know they can take money from it. Casinos are the Walmart of entertainment and discretionary spending: they do not add to any economy, they just shift the spending from the thousands of other places it would go over to the single understaffed building. They brag about their numbers: 1 BILLION dollars of spending at a single casino will create 3,000 JOBS. Well, actually, that’s an embarrassingly small number of jobs for that amount of spending. On average, 1 Billion in spending in Massachusetts currently supports about 10,000 jobs (MA GDP 350B / Workforce 3.5M). Bars, restaurants, small businesses, contractors, entertainment venues – anything that relies on discretionary spending suffers from the huge shift in spending. These are the places that make Massachusetts the cultural hub that it is.
A few of the legislators in my area who stood up AGAINST this casino law: Senator Jehlen. Senator Chang-Diaz. Rep. Carl Sciortino. Rep. Denise Provost. Rep. Sean Garballey. These are fighters who bucked leadership and fought the law tooth and nail. These are the progressive champions I admire, the people who don’t just sway in the wind but try to make their own.
So what can we do about it? We NEED to get this repeal on the ballot so we can have that statewide discussion. The fastest, easiest way to help at this 11th hour is to go to this website:
5 Signatures, crowdsourcing the casino repeal: http://5signatures.com
If you believe, like I do, that Massachusetts should continue it’s investments in infrastructure, the green economy of the future, tech, and education, then we need to nip the casino economy in the bud. We can’t go down the path that Steve Wynn or Gary Loveman or any of the paths multi-billion dollar corporate CEOs have set out for us. We have worked too hard to build an economy that moves us forward.
If we get this repeal on the ballot, Massachusetts will again be the FIRST in the country to even put this question of a complete repeal to a vote. As casinos have expanded across the country, they have all had the same story: they wait until the economy is suffering, and they spend millions of dollars on a lobbying push to convince each state that letting their giant corporation in to take money from their residents is a good economic choice. In their wake, casinos destroy towns, destroy families, drain state economies, increase unemployment, and increase addiction. Nevada has the highest unemployment of all 50 states, and New Jersey and Delaware have been forced to bail out their failing casinos because they have become so linked to the state economy they are deemed “too big to fail”.
It’s time to change that story and fight back. Massachusetts is, to put it bluntly, too savvy to fall for this corporate marketing trick. It’s time to repeal this law and start reversing the failed experiment of a the casino economy. If we start it, the country will follow.