Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weston Democratic Town Committee Casino Forum

Here's a reprint with permission from Carl Offner, Sudbury, Massachusetts.

On January 8, a number of us from the Sudbury Democratic Town Committee attended the forum on casino gambling at the Weston Middle School hosted by the Weston Democratic Town Committee and the 3d Middlesex Area Democrats There was a panel of four people:

*) two representatives of the Deval Patrick administration (one lawyer and one legislative director) -- they were of course in favor of the casino gambling proposal.

*) A person representing the League of Women Voters. She represented the position, which is against casino gambling. (She did not speak particularly forcefully, which was unfortunate, in my opinion.)

*) Tom Larkin, one of the co-chairs of the 3d MAD. Tom is a clinical psychologist specializing in problems of addiction. He spoke against the casino gambling proposal.

The two representatives of the administration spoke first. They actually said
very little, as as I remember it. They seemed to be leaning over backward to
focus the issue on jobs and on the fact that there would be lots of good non-gambling entertainment involved -- principally, golf and restaurants.

The LWV person spoke next, and Tom spoke last. Tom made a number of
points which I found significant. Specifically, he mentioned that gambling
money was "sterile" money in economic terms. I had been aware of this, and came
back to it in what I said (below). He also pointed out something that I had
not really been aware of -- that the only way casinos really make money is by
exploiting people who have gambling problems. The person who occasionally goes
and drops a few dollars at a casino is not profitable for them. They really depend
for their income on mental illness. I hope Tom writes up what he said and publicizes it -- it would be a real public service.

After the panel had spoken, the floor was opened for general comments and
"questions". It was pretty clear that if a vote had been taken at that meeting,
casinos would have lost overwhelmingly -- it would not have been close. One of the speakers who spoke before me, after giving all the reasons why she was opposed to casino gambling, said that she was "cynical" about casinos. I mention this only because I referred to it in what I said subsequently (I wrote this down from my notes afterward):


I'm Carl Offner, a member of the Sudbury Democratic Town Committee.
Our Town Committee passed a resolution against casino gambling a couple of months ago. I won't read the whole thing here, but our chair Beverly Guild has copies of it, and there are also copies on the table outside, so you can get one if you don't have it already.

Let's first clear the air a little bit:

The administration spokespeople here have talked about casinos as a way of creating construction jobs. Well there are a lot better ways to do that. There are school buildings crumbling all over this state. Just fixing that problem would provide an enormous number of good jobs. And we need to stop talking about these casinos as if the issue was entertainment. We've heard the administration spokespeople talk about golf and restaurants and such. Well, developers aren't drooling over this, and tripping over each other lining up because they want to build golf courses and restaurants. There are enormous profits in gambling---that's what's at stake, and l
let's not pretend otherwise. Now Tom Larkin mentioned that gambling profits were "sterile" money from an economic point of view, and he's absolutely right. Another example is military spending. Economists have long known that probably the least efficient way to stimulate the economy is to pour money into the military. If you make a bomb, it can't be used for anything that will benefit anyone. Under the best circumstances it just sits there, and from a purely economic point of view, you've thrown money down the drain. And at worst, of course, there are really terrible consequences. Gambling is similar. No goods exchange hands. Nothing of value is produced. The economy doesn't benefit in any real way. And most of the money leaves the state in any case. Look at Connecticut, which everyone talks about: Do you know how much money Connecticut takes in from their casinos? Less than we get here from the Lottery. That money isn't being used to benefit Connecticut.

So where is this proposal coming from? We had this guy who ran for Governor. I
worked really hard for him. When he ran, he wasn't talking about casinos. He
was talking about building up the things that really contribute to the economy and to the quality of life of people here---things like investing in renewable energy, biotechnology, and putting some significant money into education. All those things create real wealth---both intellectual and economic---and real jobs.

So he got elected, and to start funding some of these things he tried to close an ancient tax loophole that had been given to the telephone companies a hundred
years ago. Maybe it made some sense at the time. It certainly hasn't made any
sense for most of the last century. And he couldn't do it. I think he gave up awfully easily. But the point is that politicians have been spooked by the Republican assault on taxes. And so no one talks about where taxes come from, and where they are going. The fact that our Federal taxes, which should be used to build up this country, are being squandered and sent to Baghdad and Halliburton. The fact that large corporations and people of great wealth now pay taxes at much lower rates than they used to---none of this can be discussed. I want state legislators and a governor that make an issue of this. I'd like to see our governor go to Washington and make a Federal case out of it. I think we need to talk about these things on a national level.

But instead what we get is a proposal for casino gambling.

And I have to disagree slightly with one of the people who spoke before me. I don't think it's cynical to be opposed to casinos. I think it's cynical to *support* casinos. Because the whole casino proposal is predicated on the assumption that we can't have a discussion about where money comes from and where it goes. The whole proposal reflects the notion that we can't build a society that reflects our values, that brings us together and realizes our hopes. It's a tremendously cynical proposal. We deserve a lot better.

[[At this point I spoke directly to the administration

I don't actually have a question for you. But I do have an answer.

The answer is no.

--Carl Offner

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Numbers Don't Work

The Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee held a terrific forum this evening on the topic of casino gambling, specifically in Western Massachusetts. Candy Glazer, chairperson did a wonderful job organizing and moderating the discussion. Richard Fitzgerald, Town Manager of Palmer presented information on the status of the issue in his town. Two pro-casino speakers and two anti-casino speakers were each given approximately six minutes to speak. There was a question and answer period that revealed the high level of interest from the audience with the forum running just over an hour an a half. Jim St. Amand (casino liaison and Palmer resident), Thomas Murphy (casino proponent), Leo Maley (union and political activist) and myself (Selectman in community abutting two potential casino sites).

I have posted my prepared remarks that I had to edit due to the time constraints.

Casino Analysis Regional Impact Considerations:
The Numbers Don’t Work

Thank you: LDTC, PVPC, Edward S. Harrison, Chair Western MA Casino Task Force and all of the other local officials and town employees contributing to our research and dialog on the regional impacts of the proposed legislation to expand gambling in Massachusetts and specifically our region.

Conflict of Interest Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in these proposals except as a Taxpayer and Selectman. I am member of two casino study committees but not here as the spokesperson for either group.

Positive Components
Positive components of the casino bill include: a requirement that if open space is taken that an equal open space must be purchased and placed into conservation. The proposed casinos would be No Smoking facilities (sorry, no cigars!); and arguably most positive beside the profits to the investors and their employees, would be the creation of temporary prevailing wage construction jobs.

Local Casino Study Committee
The Local Casino Study Committee in Monson includes: Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Town Administrator, Highway Surveyor, Water and Sewer Superintendent, Building Inspector, Citizen Representative, Superintendent of Schools and I as a Selectman. Our task is to tabulate municipal and community concerns. Traffic, school enrollment, pollution, housing, development costs/controls, costs to the municipality, legal costs, impact on by-laws and impact on roads/infrastructure have been identified as major concerns. The LCSC is developing a survey for residents and will compile a report for Town Meeting, the Western MA Casino Task Force and Legislators.

The Western Massachusetts Casino Task Force
Western Massachusetts Casino Task Force includes Selectmen and Town Councilors from Palmer, Warren, Belchertown, Ware, Monson, Brimfield, Sturbridge, Wilbraham, Hampden, Ludlow and Holland. The casino task force began meeting in September prior to the Governor’s release of the casino bill. The Monson Board of Selectmen organized the regional task force to study the impacts pro and con of a casino in our region and to analyze the legislation as a pro-active action to ensure local and regional input in the process. The mission of the Western Regional Casino Task Force is:

“To identify all of the potential impacts that a destination resort casino located in Western MA would have on the entire region.

To pursue every avenue to assure that all potential impacts are thoroughly investigated and the proper studies undertaken to guarantee that all of the potentially impacted communities are awarded equitable mitigation/compensation in the event that the Commonwealth licenses Class III Gaming.”

The task force has met five times to date including the initial meeting to discuss the formation of a regional coalition. Discussion has focused on the structure, content, economic and fiscal components of the casino bill. There was a unanimous decision not to debate the pros/cons of casino gambling from a moral or opinion-based perspective.

The minutes of the Western Region Casino Task Force meeting of December 19, 2007 summarized the bill as, “overall the legislation reflects a lack of local representation, lack of transparency and a lack of independent studies.”

The Bill

The Administration produced a casino bill largely in isolation that lacked independent analysis or any regional input. The process and product are flawed. No fact-finding, local discussions, town meetings or regional planning organizations were included in the process. The product is a poorly crafted piece of legislation and I suggest that it should not be supported by any taxpayer, municipal leader or legislator regardless of their position on gambling due to enormity of flaws in the document and proposal.

The following major concerns were noted (form WMCAT minutes)

a) The application process for a casino gaming license provided very little local review and input.

b) There is a need for increased regional representation on the proposed gaming commission.

c) A clearer and consistent definition of region and impact area needs to be formulated and consistently
applied throughout the legislation. Current language is inconsistent with references such as region,
contiguous, surrounding, adjoining, etc. used throughout in similar instances.

d) No clear, substantive and objective criteria exists for the evaluation of applicants proposals. Study
requirements, minimum acceptance level of the provision for local review must be provided.

e) Overall the legislation reflects a lack of local representation, lack of transparency and a lack of
independent studies.

f) The relationship to the MEPA review process was also discussed, including: how the impact evaluation will be assessed; consistency with the MEPA format; and similarity of standards and thresholds. It was also questioned what the implications would be if a local permitting authority denied a local permit (preventing or impacting casino construction) but a state gaming license had already been issued to the developer.


1. The Administration projects 400million in annual revenues from casinos taxed
at 27%.

2. The Administration projects the creation of 20,000 permanent jobs.

Interestingly the media has reported full-time casino salaries during the
summer ’07 at 35k, 40-45K, during the fall ’07 and January 11, 2008,
Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Suzanne Bump told Selectmen
and Mayors last weekend at the MMA conference that casino jobs would pay 50K
with benefits.
There has been no independent analysis to support these rapidly increasing
salaries in the proposed Massachusetts casino industry, and it is troubling
that the figures appear to be based on averages (including executive pay)
rather than median incomes based on job classifications. The 20,000 jobs
are sometimes referred to as “new” jobs and other times not qualified
as “new” jobs. Is this economic development or economic shift?

3. The Administration has projected 30,000 temporary construction jobs.

According the Mass Taxpayer Foundation's report, the revenue will be $300 million or less. Mitigation of the lottery shortfall is estimated between: $120 – $150 million. Michael Widmer, President of MTF vigorously challenged the Administration’s projections at the Mass Municipal Association meeting last weekend. He stated that including casino revenues in the FY ’09 budget was, “fiscally irresponsible”.

The Numbers Don’t Work

Regional Mitigation and Public Health Mitigation at 5% of the gross revenues of $1.5 billion is estimated at $75 million per year. $75 million shared between three regions,
~ 12.5 million for each category for western region.

Additional costs included in the bill but not in the Administrations calculations:

Establishment of the Gaming Control Authority (~75-85 million per year), Attorney General and State Police expanded departments, District Attorney costs, local law enforcement (unknown, not calculated).

Additional costs not included in the bill and not included in the Administrations calculations: Legal costs to the COMMONWEALTH and region, education costs (influx- not accounted anywhere), low income housing demands and social services to support low income families, Bankruptcies, Loss of revenues to local economy and small businesses, Criminal History Systems Board (CHSB/CORI), Prisons and Jails (not accounted anywhere).

The town of Monson current projected deficit is over 1.5 million for FY 09. The figure to maintain adequate services is currently 2.5 million. These figures are prior to additional burdens on public services. Every community in the region is operating a sub-optimal funding and many with structural deficits. $12.5 million does not fill the holes for current fiscal needs prior to additional burden. The additional burdens including public safety, education and housing could meet or exceed the full revenues leaving no excess funds to hold the Lottery harmless or cover the expenses incurred by the Gaming Control Authority. The Numbers Don’t Work.

Who will pay for the shortfalls?

The towns in the Warren/Palmer region do not have full-time health departments and no social services departments. The infrastructure for social services consists of two community hospitals with one in-patient psychiatric wing and two outpatient counseling centers that are understaffed for current demand.

Palmer District Court has historically been one of the lowest funded District Courts in the Commonwealth and serves all of the communities in eastern Hampden County. Palmer District Court has no SAFEPLAN advocate to work with individuals affected by Domestic Abuse. I have worked for twenty years in Hampden County in the field of health education, addiction and mental health services. I co-wrote the successful FY 07 block grant application PRO-BONO for the Town of Palmer to get funding for a domestic violence task force. Two women were tragically murdered by domestic partners in Palmer last year. I am a member of the Hampden County DA’s Domestic Violence Task Force. I know the issues and deficits confronting our communities in the field of social services and education. Casinos will bring increases in social problems, bankruptcies, and pollution.

So the question for all taxpayers, residents, municipal and legislative leaders is:
Who will pay for the shortfalls?

There are two possible scenarios if casinos become legal in Massachusetts.
1. The region will receive insufficient mitigation and the burdens on the municipalities and taxpayers will increase, with a small amount of money going to Boston to fulfill their agenda, or 2. the region will receive appropriate mitigation and all casino revenues will be expended. Scenario 2 is not the likely outcome.

Who will pay for the shortfalls?
Longmeadow taxpayers, my elderly parents on a fixed income in Winchester and every resident of the Commonwealth will pay for the shortfalls.

If the Administration and Legislature respond to the factual mitigation needs of the region, the shortfall in the Lottery (120 million), the cost to run the Gaming Control Authority (80 million) and the health/social costs there would be not ANY net revenue for the Commonwealth. No revenues for roads and bridges, property tax relief or funding of education. An enormous bureaucracy with seriously flawed lack of checks and balances and little controls for oversight will be created. The Numbers Don’t Work.

Longmeadow will continue to send its tax dollars to Boston and receive nothing in return.

The Gaming Control Authority
The regional casino task force has articulated concerns about the structure of the Gaming Control Authority which demand special attention.

The Gaming Authority proposed by the Administration is designed to give enormous executive control without checks and balances with the Legislature and is devoid of regional representation. The Board of Directors would have 5 of 7 appointees by the Governor. The Advisory Committee would have the majority of members appointed by the Governor with redundant positions from labor, public safety and social services with an omission of local/regional appointees. If something like this bill were proposed by our former Governor there would be squealing in the streets about the executive power-grab.
Administrations change (rapidly one might say, in Massachusetts!) and the personalities and politics of future Administrations will change. Do you feel comfortable knowing a bureaucracy has been proposed to manage a cash business that lacks sufficient legislative checks-balances or oversight? I do not.


I think it is time for a real discussion in Massachusetts about taxation and economic growth and we as Democrats should drive the debate. It is time to use imagination and ingenuity to re-vitalize our towns and cities. We need to address the true problems in our region which are not a simple lack of jobs; they are rural and urban poverty coupled with stagnant wages, skills gap and gender based wage inequality. We have fantastic colleges, natural resources, and historic gems in our region. We need leadership from all levels of government to make changes in how we do business through tax reform and local aid to the towns were we live. The Administration has proposed some positive plans and we should engage and support those that are well conceived and sustainable.

We also need to call the media to task to perform its duty to conduct independent research and accurately inform citizens and taxpayers of the fiscal realities of the casino proposal. It is a bad bill and should die and early death in the House. Regardless of whether you are a gambler or not, you will pay for casinos in Massachusetts.