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As pro-casino folks bide their time, here’s some food for thought

Aug. 13, 2014 | G. Michael Dobbs

It’s mid-August and one would have thought by now we would have been at least at the start of the media blitz about the repeal of the casino legislation.

Apparently the pro-casino forces are waiting until after the September primaries when the potential for their message to become lost in the noise has decreased.

There were several recent stories in the news this week that should give folks food for thought as they ponder how they are going to vote on this issue.

On Aug. 10 in the New York Times, Jesse McKinley and Charles V. Bagli noted the state of New York is expected to license four new casinos with some opening as early as next year.

The reporters wrote, “But analysts, economists and casino operators warn that the industry is already suffering the effects of fierce competition, if not saturation, even in the Northeast, once a rich, untapped market. Winnings are flat or shrinking in many places. Casinos in Atlantic City are closing; Foxwoods, in Connecticut, is cutting costs. The longstanding image of gambling as a no-doubt winner for state governments has quietly gone the way of a bettor’s bankroll after too many hours at the tables.”

In other words gambling is no sure thing.

Now, let’s consider a report on “NBC Nightly News” by Chiara Sottile that noted four major casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. are scheduled to close. Two of the casinos are looking for new owners and 8,000 jobs are being threatened.

Atlantic City experienced a re-birth when casinos first came in decades ago. They were the only game in the Northeast. Casinos, though, are now all over the Atlantic corridor. They are no longer a novelty to compete with Las Vegas.

On www.gamingtoday.com, there is a report about casinos in Ohio dated Aug. 8. “A monthly update shows Ohio’s casino revenue increased nearly 7 percent in July compared with the previous month but fell short of the totals from a year earlier. The Ohio Casino Control Commission released the latest revenue figures Thursday. In July, the casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo totaled nearly $68 million in revenue. That’s down 5.6 percent from last July.”

There are people in Ohio who are gambling, but the trend doesn’t look so good.

If the issue here is economic development, the question is if we build casinos in Massachusetts will enough customers come?

The people at MGM Springfield apparently believe their $800 million investment will work. They intend to capture enough of the gambling market share within a radius of 100 miles to be profitable. They are clearly counting on it.

Considering the economic doldrums in western Massachusetts, is that potential market share enough to make a go of a Springfield casino?

If you look at casinos as morally or ethically evil, I know how you’re to vote. I don’t think casinos are evil. They are part of the entertainment industry and a specialized business and I think a large number of potential voters will view this a test of public policy. Should we have three casinos? Are the factors to ensure their success strong enough? Will they harm the state lottery? Are we too late in developing casinos?

These are the issues pro-casino advocate must answer in order to win the vote. Repeating how many jobs casinos will create in the Bay State isn’t enough. The problem is there is no Magic Eight Ball to answer these questions. Building a casino is a crapshoot today.

Of course the difference is the MGM Springfield is a radically different design with many of its moneymaking features not associated with gaming at all. Will that be enough to make it a viable business? That’s the question we have to consider.

Agree? 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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