Monday, May 10, 2010


Opinion: Opening door to tribal gaming in Massachusetts Monday, May 10, 2010

"Robert DeLeo wants to bring legalized gambling to Massachusetts. He wants two casinos and slots at four racing tracks, and right now, it looks like he’s going to get his wish.

And, potentially, a lot more. In DeLeo’s rush to appease the building trades and carve out some action for the two racetracks in his district, the speaker of the House is setting the table for a gambling expansion in Massachusetts that has the potential to be far broader than anything he’s pitching. He’s opening the door to new gambling halls on Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape, in Middleborough and Fall River. It’s also something neither he, nor anyone else on Beacon Hill, can control.

Forget, for a second, all the reasons we know we should worry about legalized gambling — its regressive nature, the way it cannibalizes money that would otherwise be spent at local businesses, the negligible benefits it offers strained government budgets, the staggering social and regulatory costs. None of that has swayed DeLeo, or anybody else on Beacon Hill whose opinion actually matters these days. Two years ago, the Legislature was debating whether to legalize casinos at all; now the body is just wondering how many to greenlight.

The Mashpee Wampanoag and the Aquinnah, the state’s two federally recognized Native American tribes, have each expressed serious interest in owning a gleaming gambling hall. They haven’t been able to follow through on those urges because, legally, they can’t.

The tribes are sovereign, but they’re only allowed to set up a gambling shop at the highest level of gaming that’s legal in their home state. Right now, they could peddle scratch tickets, or maybe hop into the high-stakes bingo game. There’s no serious money in either pursuit. That changes the moment the governor signs a casino bill into law this summer. Each will be freed to set up gaming operations on their tribal land, on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. And the state wouldn’t be able to touch a dime of whatever rolls in."

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