Massachusetts is well represented on a "Hypocrite Hall of Fame" list released Monday by an anti-gambling group.
The list slaps the hypocrite label, fairly or not, on current and former pro-gambling public officials, industry insiders and gambling enthusiasts who do not gamble or only place wagers seldomly, including President Trump, casino mogul Steve Wynn and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Stop Predatory Gambling, a Washington D.C. non-profit led by Les Bernal, a former aide to Susan Tucker, a former Massachusetts state senator and expanded gambling opponent, alleges that members on its list "cause life-changing financial losses for millions of American citizens." Stop Predatory Gambling's members include progressives and conservatives committed to "freeing us from the lower standard of living, exploitation, and fraud that commercialized gambling spreads."
While Massachusetts has long promoted its profitable Lottery, expanded gambling opponents dominated Beacon Hill for many years, most notably during House Speaker Sal DiMasi's reign in the 2000s. When Robert DeLeo succeeded DiMasi in 2009, the House quickly followed his lead and an expanded gambling law was put on the books in 2011.
Expanded gambling proponents prevailed after arguing that government shouldn't stand in the way of people who want to gamble and that Massachusetts was missing out on jobs and tax revenues flowing to gaming venues in neighboring states. Gambling is also a way to raise tax revenues without raising taxes.
In addition to DeLeo, the new list features other public officials who played major roles in removing barriers to casinos in Massachusetts, such as former Gov. Deval Patrick and former Senate President Stan Rosenberg. It also includes former Treasurer and Lottery overseer Tim Cahill, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash who pushed for expanded gambling as city manager of Chelsea.
The report cited a 2011 WCVB-TV interview in which DeLeo said, "I've only been in a casino twice in my life and one of those times was for a boxing match."
In a 2010 Boston Globe interview, Rosenberg was asked if he ever gambled, according to the report. "Nope. Never put a coin in a slot machine. Well you don’t put coins in them anymore, you play by putting a card into the slot. I buy a lottery ticket every now and then when the jackpot gets really large, just for the fun of it. But no, I'm not a gambler."
When he served in Chelsea, Ash with Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll co-chaired a coalition that prodded Beacon Hill to embrace expanded gambling.
The report quoted a pro-casino Boston Herald op-ed in 2008 in which Ash wrote, "It was the second of my two trips to Foxwoods that convinced me I was really among my element. No, not gamblers –- although I do play cards in a regular home game, I'm not much of a gambler. Instead, I found my element while walking through the shops."
While many public officials have said they just personally prefer to not gamble, Stop Predatory Gambling in its report speculates about their motivations.
"Why don't they gamble away their own money on state-sanctioned gambling?" the report says. "Because they know it's a big con and it can be dangerous to their health. State-sanctioned gambling is the only business where most of the people who profit from it and promote it don't do it and don't want to live near it."
A Plainville slots facility was the first to open under the state's expanded gambling law; a resort casino is scheduled to open this year in Springfield and another resort casino is under construction in Everett. So far, expanded gambling has yet to gather momentum in southeastern Massachusetts.
In 2014 Massachusetts voters rejected a ballot question repealing the state's expanded gambling law, with 39 percent voting in favor and 58 percent against.
Since agreeing to casinos, Beacon Hill, prodded by the electorate, has embraced marijuana legalization, another idea that lacked support in the Legislature for many years. Lawmakers are currently weighing bills to legalize online gambling and waiting on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could legalize betting on pro sports. An aspect of pro sports betting — daily fantasy sports contests based on the performance of individual players — is already legal.