Commentary: Gambling's Troubling Reality

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This commentary was written by Robin Rouse, a writer based in Wareham.

Robin Rouse (Courtesy)
Robin Rouse (Courtesy)

I've never been to Monte Carlo, but I've seen enough James Bond movies to imagine it: women in glamorous gowns and men in tailored tuxedos letting piles of chips ride on one spin of the roulette wheel. That's the fantasy.

The reality, though, as I witnessed with my father, is quite different. He wasn't rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, but the old and financially tenuous, clutching their last Social Security checks. Can Massachusetts really afford an increase in their numbers?

Lawmakers themselves acknowledge that legalized gambling would bring more social problems to the state, so they've added language and funding to the new bill to "address" them — actually requiring on-site counseling at the casinos. That's gonna help.

And while supporters of the bill would like you to believe the industry is a magic bullet for curing all that ails a state financially, I would ask: why do so many states with legalized gambling have higher unemployment rates than Massachusetts?

A quick check of federal labor stats for July shows at least four states with legalized gambling — Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey and Mississippi — all have higher unemployment rates than we do.

[sidebar title="An Opposing View:" width="300" align="right"] Commentary: Casinos A Construction Gold Mine [/sidebar]

I say, instead of investing in an industry that preys on the oldest and least-financially secure in our society, let's invest in Massachusetts' infrastructure. Instead of building casinos, let’s put people to work building the new roads and bridges our state desperately needs.

Instead of creating jobs dealing cards, serving drinks and taking other people’s money, how about we invest in educating those without jobs? They could fill the shortage of high tech workers Massachusetts needs. Legalized gambling is not going to solve one of our state's biggest problems: keeping our best and our brightest. I’ve never heard an MIT grad say they would have stayed in Massachusetts if only it had legalized gambling.

This debate is full of "if onlys." If only people didn't get addicted to gambling. If only people didn't lose their life savings. If only casinos would generate enough jobs and money to pay for fixing those problems. Whether or not Massachusetts would come out on the positive side of that cost/benefit equation is something I wouldn’t bet on.

- From The Archives:

Last year, when Massachusetts lawmakers battled over gaming legislation, Robin Rouse and Bill Frost composed commentaries for us. You can read Robin's 2010 entry here, and Bill's here.

This program aired on September 14, 2011.


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