Editorial: Governor Patrick, Legislature should amend Casino bill

There’s still time for Governor Patrick to make changes to the flawed Casino bill passed by the House and Senate last night. The governor should either make line-item revisions to the bill and send it back to the Legislature — or just veto it altogether.

The governor should not settle for a casino bill that fails to give city residents a full voice on whether or not a casino will be sited in Boston. The most recent version of the bill calls for only one ward of the city to vote in a referendum on a potential casino siting in the capitol city, even though there would need to be a pre-existing agreement between the city of Boston and the casino owner prior to a vote. While the latest version passed by the Legislature would allow the “local governing body” — the Boston City Council— to call for a citywide vote instead, this compromise leaves too much to chance. All Boston voters should have a say in such a decision and the governor should simply strike the “ward referendum” and insert a referendum across the whole municipality.

More critically, the governor should strike language that allows casinos to serve free drinks to gamblers on the casino floor with no strings attached. We don’t need a study to know that supplying gamblers with free drinks and then sending them on their way onto our highways is a recipe for disaster. The casino lobby argument that “everyone else does it” is not a compelling case for adding free booze to the equation at these destination resorts. Nevada — the gambling epicenter of the nation— also permits forms of legalized prostitution. Should we follow suit in that respect as well? Of course not.

The governor could instead qualify this perk by requiring that free drinks be offered and served only to overnight resort guests who agree to surrender their car keys in exchange for a wristband. Drink all you want, serve all you want. But, please, don’t ply day-tripping gamblers with booze and then set them loose on our roadways. If this stands, we fear there will be a new round of carnage on our roadways linked to casinos. Let’s put in some common-sense measures to control the problem now, before any innocent lives are lost.

Governor Patrick and the legislature still have a chance to make this bill better. It’s now clear that we as a Commonwealth are going down this casino road together. Let’s try to get it right the first time and not careen into public policy decisions that are so clearly wrong-headed just for the sake of getting this “stimulus” package done before Thanksgiving.

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