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Joan Vennochi

Place your bet, governor

IF GOVERNOR Deval Patrick is still unsure about casino gambling, he should follow that wise instinct and walk away from it now.

Why take two more weeks to ponder the issue? The arguments for and against aren't new. The governor had plenty of time to study them during his lengthy vacation in the Berkshires.

The push for expanded gambling in Massachusetts comes from racetrack operators, out-of-state promoters, and other gambling interests. If they haven't made their case yet, that should tell Patrick something important. It's a shaky case for everyone but them.

The governor's spokesman said no specific event changed Patrick's timetable for making up his mind. Unfortunately, the delay in executive decision-making makes it look like Patrick is weighing the politics, pro and con, instead of the policy, pro and con. It also looks like he is giving the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe time to get past the recent resignation of disgraced tribal chairman Glenn Marshall.

Marshall stepped down after the Cape Cod Times reported that he had been convicted of rape in 1981 and lied about his military record. The deposed tribal leader was key to negotiating the Wampanoag agreement to build a resort casino in Middleborough. That, too, should tell Patrick something about the ethics of gambling's biggest promoters.

Walking away now would show Patrick has the spine to resist the heat generated by the casino gambling crowd. For weeks, gambling proponents have been fanning the flames of inevitability. Now is a good time to douse them.

Walking away now would also give state policy leaders the chance to face fiscal reality and deal with it responsibly.

A package of revenue-raising proposals in Patrick's first budget made good economic sense. He proposed a plan to close corporate tax loopholes; doing so could bring in $100 million in new revenue. The governor also wanted to give cities and towns options to raise revenues by increasing meals and lodging taxes; just a 1 percent local option meals tax could raise as much as $120 million for Massachusetts cities and towns.

The business community balked and state legislators caved. But if Patrick says no to casino gambling, legislators might be forced to get serious about alternative revenue sources. With gambling off the table, other important matters will be on it.

Meanwhile, the intrigue continues to build in this gambling drama. Blogging for Cape Cod Today, Peter Kenney yesterday reported that one of Patrick's political advisers, Michael Morris, recently attended a private meeting between state Senator Dianne Wilkerson and two members of the Masphee Wampanoag tribe. Wilkerson has a long history of political problems, relating to missing campaign records, mortgage payments, and unpaid federal income taxes. Why would the governor want a top aide involved with Wilkerson and the Wampanoag tribe?

Wilkerson asked Morris to meet with her about constituent problems involving the Wampanoags, according to Kyle Sullivan, a Patrick spokesman. Morris did not know anyone from the tribe would be at the meeting, Sullivan said. He talked to them out of courtesy, and ultimately referred them to Secretary of Housing and Economic Affairs Dan O'Connell.

The one way to stop the rumor mill is to stop the gambling madness as soon as possible. Once he does, Patrick should go back to the business community and speak the truth. The state needs more revenue. Closing tax loopholes is a matter of tax fairness; it's not a tax increase. Giving cities and towns the option to raise meals and lodging taxes doesn't threaten economic development.

He should also do what he didn't do when he unveiled his budget plan: challenge the business community to put aside selfish interests for the greater good of the Commonwealth. There are business leaders out there willing to rise to that challenge.

Patrick said he would have something to say about gambling sometime after Labor Day. It's now sometime after Labor Day.

"The more I read, the more complicated it is," Patrick told reporters. But there really isn't much gray in the casino gambling debate.

Proponent or opponent, each side knows its lines. It's economic development vs. the social cost of addiction and crime. It's flooding state budget coffers with new revenue or chasing after the false promise of fool's gold. It's getting a piece of Connecticut's casino action or selling out Massachusetts. It rightly gives every individual the right to gamble away the future, or it's just another way to take money from the poor and give it to the rich.

Inquiring minds want to know what side Patrick is on - the sooner, the better.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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