Dan Lawlor: Casino Gaming Won’t Save Rhode Island
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
"As always, the lights of the Strip- and now its well-paid corporate publicists - seemed to dazzle the rest of the country, many visiting journalists oblivious to the reality behind the neon." - from The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America: 1947-2000, Sally Denton and Roger Morris.
As one of my friends put it, the mob won.
Gambling, or gaming, used be called a "racket." Now, it is legitimate state business.
America has a long history of gambling and politics mixing, especially in the 20th century.
If you'll forgive the timeline, I want to paint a picture of
In the 1930s, the state militia was called out to prevent the opening of a race track in Pawtucket, which was owned by a rival of the then-Governor.
In the 1960s, following some closed door negotiations between Governor John Notte and Mob Don Raymond Patriarca, late night race track gambling was legalized, despite opposition from the AFL-CIO.
In 1974, as the state's economy tanked with the closure of the naval bases and factories, the General Assembly created the State Lottery as a way to generate more revenue (this after instituting the income tax in 1971).
In the 2000s, the Grand Jai Alai betting facility converted into a Video Gambling slot machine warehouse. The greyhound racing and betting at Lincoln Park ended, and the facility transitioned from Lincoln Park to Twin Rivers, becoming a video gambling slot machine and music act hub.
In 2006, the people voted down a Constitutional Amendment to allow the Narragansetts to open a Casino in West Warwick. Shortly after the vote, the state launched a massive expansion of Twin River.
Now, in 2012, there is a proposal to further expand Twin River to allowing table games, essentially becoming a full-fledged state run casino. This latest attempt at expansion is being billed as necessary to save jobs and revenue from soon to be built casinos in Massachusetts.
State gambling, from the slot machines today to the introduction of the state lottery in the 1970s, happens because we haven't been able to create a healthy, growing economy to generate enough taxes to pay for our state government. We have a State Lottery because we don't have a decent economy.
As summer movies from Dark Knight Rises to the Hunger Games have suggested, hope is a powerful tool in a society. As union wage jobs disappeared (and the tax revenue that went with them), desperate for money, our state responded by creating the lottery - dangling the prospects of millions before hundreds of thousands of people whose salaries were being cut.
The big take-away for me from Rhode Island's manufacturing days is that the state should never again be dependent on just one industry. When the factories began closing, we never found a real replacement. A strong economy, like they say in Econ 101, is a diverse one. The state should never put all its eggs in one basket (another reason why the Curt Shillings deal was dumb).
Interestingly, I will point out that many former legislators and their staff understand the value of diverse assets. You can tell by looking at their lobbying portfolios.
It seems like we are looking for our next big change. There are a range of options to promote a more diverse economy: renewable energy industries, expanding the arts and culture community, creating a competitive advantage by reducing (if not eliminating) the sales tax, raising the income tax on the very wealthiest ($400,000 plus), fostering high end biomedical research, attracting high end manufacturing jobs (and apprenticeships with them), streamlining small business applications, fostering healthcare jobs and job training, and efforts to unionize big box retailers and hotel workers across the state.
What policies do we need to enact to make a transparent, growing economy of entrepreneurs and middle class workers a reality?
In the The Money and the Power, a confrontation is recorded between a mobster and a US Senator, during a hearing:
“What's so bad about gambling? You like it yourself. I know you've gambled a lot.”
“That's right. But I don't want you to control it.”
In a struggling economy, I know why casino gambling is an attractive source of potential revenue for the state. However, casinos don't fix a state's broken economies. Has Foxwoods solved Bridgeport's challenges? Is Hartford better off because of Mohegan Sun? We can do better than neon.
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