House Speaker DeLeo Banks On Casinos, Slots

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It’s probably not by chance that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced his plan for gaming on the same day that the state’s unemployment rate went up to 9.5 percent.

"I can tell you when I drove home one night last week I had a gentleman waiting for me with a résumé, when I drove up to my house at 9:30 at night, because he didn’t have a job," DeLeo said. "He was concerned about his ability to pay for his bills and care for his family."

DeLeo wants to give work to that blue-collar man and thousands of others by authorizing two resort-style casinos. And by letting up to four race tracks around the state add slot machines.

"I think people are crying out for jobs," DeLeo said, "and this is a reasonable way for us to create more jobs in Massachusetts."

Listen: State House News Service's Craig Sandler On Gambling's Odds

Not everyone agrees.

"Bringing casinos to Massachusetts is only going to hurt the very people they claim to try to help," said Shrewsbury's Kelly Marcimo, who is with the group, United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.

She says people who are out of work or on the verge of losing their homes are only more vulnerable to the false promise of casino gambling.

"In order for the state to gain revenue, people have to lose money," Marcimo said.

Other politicians take issue with certain aspects of DeLeo's proposal. Gov. Deval Patrick says slots won't create jobs. Senate President Therese Murray issued a similar statement.

"I don’t see the magic in all these slot machines," state Sen. Susan Tucker said. "We have choices for how and what kind of jobs we bring in."

There are also social costs to legalizing gaming. Speaker DeLeo admits that. He wants to set aside some of the revenue to address them. But he says there are also social costs to a shrinking state budget. If Massachusetts had more money, he says, it wouldn’t have to be slashing social programs.

"Right now as we stand right now in the commonwealth, all we can talk about is cuts, cuts, cuts," DeLeo said.

After "cuts, cuts, cuts," the words "jobs" and "revenue" sound great. It’s why DeLeo thinks his State House colleagues will vote to legalize gaming.

But Mike Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says DeLeo is using today’s economy for political expediency. After all, Widmer says, the economic benefit of gaming won’t be realized for years.

"This is no trivial undertaking," Widmer said. "Is this really such a burning issue that we need to address it in 2010?"

Widmer says the state is facing huge budget and unemployment problems. And they dwarf the 8,000 or so new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in gaming revenue. Even if those benefits eventually do come, it might be too late for that blue collar worker waiting with his résumé on Speaker DeLeo’s doorstep.

This program aired on March 5, 2010.

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Curt Nickisch Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.



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