By Steven R. Maher
With all the hullabaloo about the Presidential election, and the clamor about charter schools (Question 2), humane conditions for farm animals (Question 3), and marijuana legalization (Question 4) little attention has been paid to Question 1, which would allow the Stating Gaming Commission to license one additional slot machine parlor.
That’s unfortunate, because there’s apparently a story behind the ballot question:
The opponents of the proposal stated on their website: “Question 1 is a flagrant abuse of the ballot question process. It was filed by one developer, for one site, for one purpose: his own financial benefit. The drafters of the Massachusetts Constitution designed our ballot question process to give the people a voice on statewide issues, not as an end-run around the legislative process for wealthy developers and corporate interests.”
Written to narrow down
A closer look at the proposed referendum seems to indicate that it was drafted to narrow down the location of the slot machines parlor to one site:
• The location has to be “at least four acres in size”;
• It has to be “adjacent to and within 1,500 feet of a race track, including the track’s additional facilities, such as the track, grounds, paddocks, barns, auditorium, Amphitheatre, and bleachers”
• It has to be “where a horse racing meeting may physically be held”;
• The site has to be “where a horse racing meeting shall have been hosted”; and
• The site cannot be “separated from the race track by a highway or railway.”
All these references to horse racing suggests that the beneficiaries of the ballot question would be the owners of the Suffolk Downs racetrack.
Opponents of Question 1 deny this. “Suffolk Downs itself would have no ownership interest in the proposed casino, and would receive no direct benefit from it. While a percentage of any Massachusetts casino’s profits are legally required to go toward the statewide Horse Racing Fund, this fund alone may not be enough to save New England horse racing,” says the Vote No website.
“The question of a casino near Suffolk Downs has already been asked and answered three times, and there is no reason to revisit it now,” continues the website statement. “The first proposal was withdrawn due to serious questions raised by allegations of criminal ties and inappropriate conduct on the part of Caesars Entertainment. The second was voted down by East Boston residents, and the third was denied by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission even after the Commission changed its own rules to give Suffolk Downs a second chance.”
Pros and cons
According to the website of “The Horse Racing Jobs and Education Committee” the slots parlor will have the following benefits to the Commonwealth (www.Massachusettsquestion1.net)
• “Over $80 Million Dollars in new Revenue to the State per year”;
• “$12 Million Dollars to support Horse Racing in Massachusetts”;
• “1000’s of new jobs both Direct and Indirect for Massachusetts citizens”;
• “$5 million dollars in guaranteed new revenue to the Host City.”
The website of the “Committee for Responsible and Sustainable Economic Development”, MaCasinos.net urges a NO vote for the following reasons
•”Legalized casino gambling in the Commonwealth is too new and unproven to expand at this time”;
• “Only one slot parlor has opened in Massachusetts, and it is significantly underperforming”;
• “Five casinos are expected to open in Massachusetts by 2019. The Wall Street Journal warns that New England already has more casinos than the market wants or needs”;
• “Proponents of the ‘Act Relative to Gaming’ have traveled across the globe to exploit the Commonwealth and send a message to other casino developers – they can come to Massachusetts and do the same”;
• Urges a no vote “to postpone the question of gambling expansion until a review of the costs and benefits of existing Massachusetts gaming establishments is completed.”
What are the economic benefits of passing Question 1?
Both sides dispute that state taxpayers, on the whole, will benefit or not benefit from passing the question.
In a “Statement of Fiscal Consequences” mailed out to state voters, the Secretary of State’s office stated: “The fiscal consequences of this proposed measure for state and municipal government finances could range from 0 dollars to an unknown positive amount.
“Under the Expanded Gaming Act, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has the discretion to determine whether a gaming license should be issued and when that determination would be made.
“If the Gaming Commission did award the proposed license, a new analysis of the casino market would be needed to determine the amount of revenue from this license, based on proposed size and operations, and the potential impact of competition from other gaming establishments in Massachusetts and surrounding areas.”