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Mass. residents spent $1.1b at nearby gambling venues, study says

Casino foes dispute survey's methodology

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / March 24, 2008

Massachusetts residents spent $1.1 billion last year at gambling venues in Connecticut and Rhode Island, shrugging off a shaky economy to top the billion-dollar mark for the fifth consecutive year, according to an annual survey to be released today.

Bay Staters plunked down an estimated $846 million at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and $195 million at Rhode Island's two slot parlors, according to the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

While opponents of gambling in Massachusetts have disputed his methods, Clyde W. Barrow, the center's director and an authority on the economic impact of gambling, said the figures show that gambling revenue is resilient, even in the face of an economic downturn.

The study, which is based on the number of Massachusetts license plates counted at the facilities during a five-day span, also seemed to substantiate the potential revenue estimates of Governor Deval Patrick, whose proposal to set up three casinos in the state was defeated by lawmakers last week.

Massachusetts residents spent roughly as much at the casinos last year as in 2006, the study found, even though revenue at the casinos dipped.

"Despite all the economic negatives, casino spending remained constant," Barrow said in a phone interview.

Gambling expenditures from Massachusetts residents generated $117 million in tax revenues for Connecticut, $116 million for Rhode Island, and just under $1 million for Maine, which has a slot parlor in Bangor, according to the fifth annual study of spending patterns at casinos.

Since 2003, Massachusetts spending at the four major gambling venues has produced more than $1 billion in tax revenues, the study found.

Patrick had proposed using casino taxes to help balance the state's budget.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is seeking federal permission to build a casino in Middleborough.

Casino opponents say the tax revenue estimates have been inflated. They have singled out Barrow's research as flawed and biased toward building casinos.

"We haven't put much stock in Dr. Barrow's numbers in the past," said State Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a casino opponent.

Bosley said he had not seen the report but said it's too early to tell whether people will continue to spend at casinos because the recent economic downturn has only recently begun.

But Barrow said Massachusetts' patronage of casinos in bordering states remains "strong and resilient" in the face of high gas prices and low consumer confidence.

Massachusetts residents make up more than one-third of Foxwoods patrons and one-fifth of Mohegan Sun's, the study concluded.

In testimony at the State House last week, Barrow said Patrick's estimates of $2 billion in total revenue, $400 million in taxes, and 20,000 permanent jobs were accurate.

Earlier this month, an independent study released by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce largely buttressed Patrick's case.

Spending by Massachusetts residents alone are responsible for creating about 6,500 jobs at out-of-state gambling venues, the UMass-Dartmouth study said.

Critics say casino studies ignore the likely negative impacts on other businesses and do not account for increased competition for gambling dollars in other states.

New casinos would prey on the poor, increase gambling addiction, and cause a host of other socioeconomic problems, casino critics say.

Barrow said Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which are both undergoing $700 million expansions, are positioning themselves to attract more meetings and conventions.

"The current expansions are an aggressive move designed to capture an even bigger portion of Massachusetts' and Rhode Island's conventions and meetings business," the study said.

The study seemed to substantiate the estimates of Governor Deval Patrick, whose casino proposal was defeated by lawmakers last week.

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