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Legislature throws spitballs while other states move ahead on casino projects

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
April 18, 2011
On April 5, House Speaker Robert DeLeo was in Springfield as the headliner at a fund-raiser for State Rep. Angelo Puppolo. Naturally, I wanted to take that opportunity to speak to him about two matters: the progress the House is making on the state's budget gap and the status of the conventional thinking about casinos.
I was told the speaker would not be available to the press and later that night I was surprised — to say the least — that he willingly spoke to television reporters.
Lucky the Wonder Bichon heard some creative cursing that night.
Matt Campbell of CBS3 brought up the issue that affects the casino issue the most for us here in the hinterlands and that was whether or not the speaker supported the concept of dividing the state into three zones and then offer a casino license for each zone.
DeLeo told Campbell, "My initial reaction [on zones]? I probably think it would be wiser probably to say two, three, whatever it may be, and let the economics take it wherever it may land."
This was quite a big signal to what may be the future of expanded gaming in the Commonwealth and it probably won't be too good for us.
Basically, DeLeo is saying rather than guide casino developers to consider three parts of the state, he would leave it up to them to decide where they want to go. Naturally, they are going to want to go where the greatest potential market is located.
The problem facing Massachusetts is while the governor and the Legislature has been throwing spitballs at one another and calling each other names, other states have moved forward on their casino plans.
Casino developers undoubtedly have been looking at demographics and markets, and while a Western Massachusetts casino could draw from Albany, N.Y., southern Vermont, Hartford, Conn., Worcester and even New York City — we're an easy train ride away. The question will be whether or not that is enough. Developers have been watching what other states are doing and the once relatively open New England market is getting a little crowded.
There are two successful slot parlors in Rhode Island and, according to the Providence Journal, that state's governor is considering hiring a consultant to see how casinos in Massachusetts would affect the profitability of those facilities. I wouldn't be surprised if the solution was to license their own casinos.
There are two casinos in Maine currently under development and according to the Lewiston Sun/Journal, there are two more proposals.
Consider that a full casino will be opening at New York's venerable Aqueduct Racetrack later this year, that New York City market won't need to travel to the Connecticut casinos, much less the Atlantic City, N.J., casinos.
A casino in Holyoke or Palmer probably wouldn't appeal much to them. With gas prices as high as they are — and will they ever come down substantially — people are going to stick closer to home to exercise their interests.
I'm sure the plum casino developers will seek is the greater Boston market. There are plenty of people there and if the state acts quickly — there is a laugh — they may get casinos established before Rhode Island does, establishing even a larger market.
Where will we be? Out of luck. Now, I hope my scenario doesn't play out. We need the jobs. We need the revenue. I'm just a little discouraged.
***

I would be remiss if I didn't say the roast for retiring Holyoke Police Chief Anthony Scott was a blast, as it was. Seldom have so many local elected officials and media took part in an event such as that one.
Who knew Chicopee Police Chief John Ferraro had great comic timing? He was the break-out star.
Scott has had his detractors, but it is difficult to dispute his success in changing how people view the Paper City. Once Holyoke frightened people. Scott's policing strategies have been part of the transformation of the factory town into a place that is cool and full of promise.
For reporters, Scott has always been good copy as he said what he thought with little concern about the political fallout. For residents, Scott, though, has symbolized a new era for that city.
He will be missed and he has cast a very long shadow.
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper..
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