and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #1

Why limit slots to racetracks?
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

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 commonwealth.

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 local economies.

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 longer.

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 2 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 these pages.

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 important:

* 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 slots.

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 District.

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.