Growing up in a Catholic town, I thought that
gambling was a virtue, with bingo helping to pay for the church and
schools. It was fun, occasionally, to go to bingo night with my mother,
back then and decades later when she lived in senior housing.
But aside from enjoying a minor social event, no one in my family had a
gambling mindset, much less an addiction. My son in Nevada benefits from
state gambling revenues, but he isn't hooked himself. When he took Chip
and me to a show in Reno, we each spent a quarter on the slots on our
way out the door.
So I can barely imagine how tough it is to be an addict, and how hard it
is on families when a breadwinner is hooked on gambling of any kind. But
I don't think that society should be organized around its weakest
members. Government shouldn't forbid any private sector activity that is
harmful only if people abuse it. Most of us can gamble without losing
the food budget, drive without crashing, own guns without killing
people, drink without getting drunk. Some people can smoke tobacco on
occasion and live to be 90.
But none of this live-and-let-live tolerance has anything to do with the
current proposal for slot machines at Massachusetts race tracks.
If the proposed new bill passes, the tracks would have a monopoly on
slot machines. Some say that having slots would open the door to
casinos, which would eventually also have the machines, but the original
idea is to give the racetracks something to attract customers who aren't
really into watching animals run. As long as you're adding vices, why
not have prostitutes and drug dealers on the premises, too?
Would most people who don't go to the racetracks now, but want to play
the slots, also bet on the horses and dogs? Even if they would, why is
the commonwealth of Massachusetts so intent on giving a monopoly on
anything to the racetracks just to keep them operating?
One of my favorite local restaurants closed last year. Why didn't the
state let it have slot machines in order to attract more customers? What
is so special about racetracks?
Forgive my free market mentality, but if the race tracks can't do enough
business to stay in business, then they're like any other company that
goes belly-up. Employees, sadly, lose their jobs, just like employees
everywhere have lost jobs. Someone will have to find good homes for the
horses and dogs — though at least more horses and dogs won't be bred for
racing, for the inevitable time when the industry realizes it's hanging
around in the wrong century.
Once upon a time, racing was an exciting event in a world without
everyday entertainment like we have now. People worked hard to survive,
and then occasionally enjoyed footraces at the Greek Olympics, chariot
races in Rome, cross-country horse races in Ireland, the temporary
racetracks at country fairs here, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis
500. But now there is lots of competition for people's recreational
time; racing is one very small item on the entertainment list. If it
can't compete, say goodbye.
Though there is betting on racing, gambling is probably older than
racing — and seems to have more longevity. It must be human nature to
want something with relatively little effort, except for us humans with
little tolerance for chance and risk. Government should leave us all
alone to pursue our interests, neither forbidding nor encouraging, and
certainly not insisting that racing be protected and subsidized with a
monopoly on slot machines!
When it comes to state revenues, lotteries are preferable to theft,
which is another word for taxation that pays for things the taxpayer
doesn't want and wouldn't choose to pay for. Those who consider all
gambling to be a temptation to addicts shouldn't support state lotteries
or church-sponsored bingo either. But most gamblers choose to take a
chance; taxpayers are forced to pay taxes under the threat of losing
their homes or going to jail.
Massachusetts needs lower taxes, so maybe it needs more gambling
revenues instead — especially if the money will otherwise accrue to
other states that allow casinos and slots. So my ideal bill, in my ideal
world, would say this:
"Anyone who wants to have a gambling business can have one. Cheating, on
the part of the business or customers, is a crime. Parents must provide
essentials for their children before spending money on fun of any kind.
Non-parents who gamble away their own money are on their own and will
have to rely on private charities to survive. The income and sales tax
rates will be no more than 5 percent and Proposition 21/2 overrides will
be replaced by local lotteries. Horses and dogs will run only when they
feel like it, if they can find a place with meadows and without a leash
law. The existing race tracks, when unprofitable, will be converted into
other, 21st century enterprises, like food courts or affordable housing,
subject to private-sector interest."
The world will be a better place.
The Salem News
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Slots mean more money for vital state services
By Alan Lupo
There are people who are addicted to legal prescriptions, but we do not
shut down pharmacies.
There are others who are alcoholics, but we do not shutter our package
stores and bars.
There are those who cannot stop playing cards, shooting craps, pulling
that lever on the slot machine, to the point where they endanger their
family finances. So, in the interests of that minority, do we not equip
our failing racetracks with slot machines or deny an Indian tribe the
right to open a casino?
Minority rights are crucial to the operation of a true democracy, but
there are times when the majority must get its way, and allowing slots
and, someday, a casino are crucial to the ongoing operation of this
Would that it were not so. Wouldn't it be nice if the citizens of this
state could and would pony up enough taxes so that our schools, roads,
mass transit, bridges, dams, courts, cops, firefighters, social workers
and all aspects of a caring, civilized society were fully funded?
Hold your breath on that possibility, and you become a Smurf.
If you gamble illegally, then somebody in organized crime is taking a
piece of your action. If you gamble legally, the state gets the skim and
uses it to fund public programs.
This is what happens with the lottery, of course, which took forever to
legalize. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, a pol named Francis
Kelly kept pushing for a lottery of sorts, and they gave him the
moniker, "Sweepstakes" Kelly. Well, some made fun of him, but he was
right, and we are better off for it.
This is what will happen, too, if the state allows our four racetracks
to install 2,000 slot machines at each place. Racing is not as popular
as it used to be, so the tracks need a draw. Without it, one or more of
them could go south, along with their employee paychecks, which help the
If they survive because of the slots, the state gets more tax dollars
for cities and towns.
If this liberal columnist had his way, we'd be funding our government
with taxes. But my colleague, Barbara Anderson, has been Rocky Marciano
to my aging Joe Louis. She has won most of the rounds when it comes to
taxes, and I have lost. I know when I am beaten. I am battered and
bruised, and my corner man is telling the referee that I can go on no
So, I am reduced to standing in the line at a convenience store with my
half gallon of milk behind somebody who is investing heavily in
megabucks and scratch tickets. For all I know, this guy is probably one
of Barbara's followers, a true believer who has voted against every
Proposition 2½ override in my community, but here he is playing the
odds, which means the state is getting some of his money, which means my
local schools might just get a few buckaroonies.
As for me, I figure gambling is a sucker's game. When I was a kid, we'd
sneak into Suffolk Downs or Wonderland to look at the ponies and
doggies, to make fun of the guys with the cigars surgically attached to
their lips and to look for loose change. I never bet at a track.
I do like slots. My dad and his twin brother used to play the illegal
slots in the back of a variety store, and I would watch for a while and
listen to the soothing sounds of clicks and bells. If we're on a cruise
ship, I might allow myself $20 to lose on the slots.
Card games? Forget about it. Dice? I won't go near the tables.
I grew up with a lot of gambling around me. Even the pinball machines
paid off, illegally of course.
It just never took, but as long as thousands of other citizens are
willing to take their dough down to Connecticut to enrich Native
Americans and that state's coffers, I say bring it all home. Use some of
the money to help people with gambling addictions. Use the rest to pay
for crucial public services.
Let me see that mechanical row of fruit and hear those bells once more.
Alan Lupo is a veteran Boston columnist who writes regularly for
The Salem News
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Shot machine hype
By Barbara A. L'Italien
The next time a politician or an editorial writer says that legalizing
slot machines is a good idea ask him (or her) three questions:
1. Have you done any fact-checking on the press releases generated by
the gambling industry?
2. Have you actually played a 21st-century slot machine, the kind that
will be installed here in Massachusetts?
3. Will you be one of the people spending over $5,000 a year at the slot
machines, the amount needed to be spent to reach the profit numbers
gambling promoters predict?
The reality is very few state leaders and news outlets have done any
fact-checking during the slots debate. They merely repeat over and over
the talking points from the gambling industry's press releases that hype
slots and the wonders they will provide. "Slot machines will stop global
warming" one headline might declare. "Casino executives said today slots
are the only answer to the looming global warming crisis. 'The more
money people spend on slot machines, the less money they'll have to fill
their gas tank, which means they'll be driving less, reducing the amount
of deadly carbon emissions being released into the environment.'" It's
hyperbole — but not by much.
Beyond doing little fact-checking, very few of these state leaders and
media types have even played a high-tech slot machine, the kind they
support making legal. These new machines are computer engineered to give
the player a sense that they "almost" won, creating a rush of excitement
which leads the player to feed more money in the machine at a faster and
faster pace. That's why public health leaders describe slots as the most
highly addictive gambling product ever invented.
And while almost none of these slot machine cheerleaders have actually
played a new slot, you can be certain that they also won't be spending
any of their own personal money in the machines if they are legalized.
In the last 25 years, no important state issue has received less media
scrutiny than the issue of legalizing slot machines in Massachusetts.
It's time that changed.
There are several key facts that should be splashed across the front
page of every newspaper in the state. Here are two of the most
* Fact: The amount of jobs claimed by the racetrack industry is greatly
exaggerated and the jobs that are real will not be saved by legalizing
Not one news outlet has dug below the surface to confirm the outrageous
number of jobs claimed by the racetrack industry. Suffolk Downs, for
example, counts over 800 racehorse owners as "employees." But even more
shockingly, a review of Massachusetts Racing Commission records shows
that over half of these "employees" live out of state. That means at
least one out of every five jobs Suffolk claims it needs to "save" with
slots is held by an out-of-stater, and that's to say nothing about where
any of the other track employees reside.
The very idea that slot machines will "save" the racetracks is totally
false. The head of none other than Churchill Downs himself declared that
slots are not a long-term solution to saving the jobs of racetrack
workers. Why hasn't the media told the public this story?
* Fact: A vote to legalize slots at the racetracks is a vote to legalize
casinos in Massachusetts without any local community control.
Federal law requires any recognized Indian tribe be permitted access to
whatever form of gambling is legal in a state. Slots are defined as
Class III gambling, as are table games like blackjack. This allows
tribes to build casinos, with little state control and no accountability
to local zoning or environmental laws. The racetrack industry's press
releases omit this fact, and the media has done very little to educate
the public on the massive impacts of Indian casinos.
So why have state leaders and media done so poorly investigating the
issue of legalizing slots?
In large part it's because many of these leaders and media figures don't
play slot machines nor do they really know people who spend a lot of
money on gambling. They are part of the elite. Many can't relate to the
notion of what the financial and social impacts would mean to everyday
people to have slot machines in our communities.
It's not meant as a criticism. Rather it affirms what is true for all of
us — that how we think and act is based much upon our own life
experience. If you don't have experience playing the new slot machines
or don't know people who spend a large portion of their income on
gambling, it becomes very hard to relate to what's at stake.
Slot machines will not end global warming. Nor will they save the
racetracks or be a cash cow for state government. But it's well past
time for the media and government leaders at all levels to give this
issue the intense review it deserves.
State Rep. Barbara A. L'Italien, D-Andover, represents the 18th Essex
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.