Thursday, 4:30 PM
Gambling debate flares after Patrick's proposal
(Wiqan Ang for The Boston Globe)
Representative Daniel Bosley (left), a longtime casino foe, squared off this morning against state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who supports the expansion of gambling. Rev. Richard McGowan, a gambling researcher at Boston College, sat between the two men during the panel discussion at the Omni Parker House.
By Michael Levenson and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
Passions flared on both sides of the gambling debate this morning as opponents and supporters of Governor Deval Patrick's plan to license three casinos in Massachusetts squared off at a forum in a hotel ballroom in downtown Boston.
About 100 lawyers, lobbyists, and lawmakers attended the panel discussion at the Omni Parker House, which included Representative Daniel Bosley and state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill -- two Democrats on opposite sides of the issue -- and the Rev. Richard McGowan, a gambling researcher at Boston College.
The most passionate comments of the morning came from a lawmaker in the audience, state Senator Susan Tucker, who blasted the governor's plan in a sarcastic speech.
"The fact is that this is an industry that depends on addiction for its resources," said Tucker, a Democrat from Andover. "Why don't we just promote smoking so we can use the extra tax on cigarettes to pay for public health problems?"
The discussion, hosted by MassInc., a nonpartisan think tank, had been scheduled before Patrick unveiled his casino plan Monday. The timing made it one of the first vigorous debates of the proposal to expand gambling throughout the state.
Cahill called the governor's plan "brilliant," saying that casino gambling became a reality that needed to be addressed after the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe won federal recognition this spring. While state treasurers have historically been against casino gambling to protect Lottery revenues, Cahill said that young consumers tend to view Keno, scratch tickets, and other Lottery contests as "their father's game." That has allowed a large revenue stream to leave the state for casinos in Connecticut and beyond.
"We should start to capture that money," Cahill said. "If people want to spend their money on gambling, who are we to say they can't. We just want to make it an attractive setting."
Bosley, a North Adams representative and longtime critic of casinos, argued that the governor overstated the economic benefits of legalized gambling. He said it would be impossible to limit casinos to three regions in the state and warned it would mushroom like the Lottery, which started with one green ticket in the 1970s and has grown to nearly 40 types of scratch-off tickets, Keno with its drawings every four minutes, and a bevy of other games.
"That's a cautionary tale for us, because the same thing will happen that happened with the Lottery," Bosley said.
Opposition to expanded gambling has been growing since 1996, Bosley said, and he estimated that 101 of the 160 members in the state House of Representatives vote against casinos the last time the issue surfaced.
Cahill said that the way to build support was simple: make sure casino revenues will be spread to each of the state's 351 cities and towns, ensuring that each legislator gets a piece.
McGowan, the gambling researcher, agreed that the governor may have been too optimistic about the financial windfall and had a warning for lawmakers hoping to fill budget gaps with casino revenues. "Once you get on to the medicine, you can't get off it," he said.