Best bet: one casino, for starters

Although not opposed to gambling, I am disappointed that Massachusetts will soon be joining the casino cavalcade. It is unfortunate we feel compelled to turn to gambling to increase revenue and generate jobs.

I am proud of the commonwealth’s opposition to the death penalty, restrictions on gun ownership, and its efforts to promote universal health care and gay rights. Such measures reflect a generous spirit and caring for others that many other states ignore.

I applaud the very things about Massachusetts that Texas Gov. Rick Perry rejects. His state is proud of its record number of executions, gun culture, and willingness to tolerate underachieving schools and a million residents without health insurance.

Texans profess “love thy neighbor” while Massachusetts more actively promotes it.

Several persons in the audience at a recent Republican candidates’ debate shouted “let him die” when the moderator posed the question of what to do when a young man, who had chosen not to buy health insurance, arrived at the emergency room critically ill and in a coma.

That he should suffer the consequences of his own irresponsibility, even if it meant his death, was the sentiment of many in the audience. For them health care is a privilege, not a right.

Casino gambling is a pleasant, albeit unprofitable, diversion for many. The operators are adept at creating a sense of excitement. The illusion of one day striking it rich has always proved an easy enticement. Cover it with some glitz and glamor in an appealing setting and they will come.

Some will be careful, others will not. Some will know when to stop, others will not. Some will have fun, others will leave depressed. They all know only a few will get lucky.

Connecticut and Rhode Island are getting revenue that should be ours, the argument goes. So we will build three resort casinos and one slot parlor. Connecticut and Rhode Island will then “double down” to hold their customers while the remaining New England States will find it necessary to compete.

Before you know it, New England has a dozen resort casinos. What once was a thriving business for the few becomes increasingly competitive and only marginally successful for the many. There is a point of diminishing returns.

The regulars, many of whom can least afford it, keep coming. They work the slots hour after hour, often losing more than they can afford. For many this is their only entertainment. They are the poor, the elderly, the lonely.

While they are entitled to have some fun and apparently enjoy a casino outing, I am troubled that the state depends on their losses to generate revenue. The high rollers presumably can afford it; the low rollers cannot.

Like alcohol, a little gambling is enjoyable and probably harmless but too much is a problem.
I would have preferred that we stay out of the gambling business. Even assuming some benefits, I question the decision to saturate the state with three casinos and one slot parlor. The wiser course, in my opinion, would have been to start with one.

In response to budget constraints and job losses generated by the recession, political leaders have chosen to spin the wheel in the hope of an easy fix. Without careful analysis, they are gambling on casinos to help solve our economic woes.

Paradoxically, casinos have become a last resort. As the industry tries to combine gaming and Disneyworld in an effort to attract customers, the state is taking a chance that the public’s appetite for packaged hoopla is insatiable.

Maybe so; they say the house always wins. But is that without regard to the number of houses? We’ll find out.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.