There are reasons to be skeptical about casinos and casino oriented development. As the process began in Massachusetts over two years ago the coverage from The Valley Advocate seemed skeptical but balanced. Opinion pieces by opponents and proponents both were published and reporters made at least passing references to the fact that the Bay State’s residents already spend up to a billion dollars a year in casinos in neighboring states. As the process has drawn closer to its apparent conclusion, however, the coverage has gone from skeptical to snarky, and has lost all sense of balance and in so doing compromised much in the way of accuracy.
It’s true that the data compiled by Robert Goodman, for example, is thorough and convincing in many ways. Of course, when integrating that data with the issues surrounding Massachusetts’ decision to allow casinos it must be understood that the Bay State is already being impacted by casinos in neighboring states; to not do that would be as irrational as ignoring Prof Goodman’s information. Contemplating, for example, just the “one casino job costs one non-casino job” concept, what is happening now is that up to a billion dollars worth of casino jobs (however many that may be) are being created in Connecticut and Rhode Island (and soon more in New York State) while at the same time those jobs are already being lost in Massachusetts. Hand waving
and arguments from the moral high ground are useless when faced with the fact that people in Massachusetts want to participate in casino gambling. Failure to develop casinos here will not change that.
The argument that somehow the process Massachusetts has followed in rolling out casinos has been undemocratic is at the same time bizarre and unsupported by the facts. The law passed both houses of the Massachusetts legislature, was signed by the governor, and contains provisions that any city or town’s chief executive can opt out (see Holyoke), and that once a community’s political leadership has negotiated a deal with any developer, that community has to approve that deal by referendum. That some mayors have exercised their prerogative to exclude their cities, and that some communities have voted down negotiated deals are, in fact, examples which prove that the process is democratic and is working. Polling data shows continued strong support for casinos in the state. How could a process involving three elected elements of state government, municipal leadership, and a community referendum, with a 20 point advantage in state-wide polling as well, be called undemocratic?
The regional strategy for casino development in the state was also well thought out to maximize corporate development and critical mass in each of the proposed regions in order to maximize positive impacts while minimizing negative ones. The state called for a minimum of $500,000,000 in investment for the western Massachusetts region, and what it has on the table is an offer of an $850,000,000 development which will also include utilizing millions of dollars of previously developed entertainment infrastructure (The MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage). The Commonwealth set a floor for investment, and MGM has broken through the ceiling.
Early on in the process it was implied, on blogs recommended by Advocate reporters, that the fix was in for Penn National because of its plan’s connections (both physical and political) to the interests of Mass Mutual, The Republican, Peter Pan, and Congressman Neal. When the mayor’s office went with the clearly superior if less politically connected MGM plan, I did not read a single line of support for Dominic Sarno in the Advocate. MGM, both before the mayor’s decision and after, continued to barnstorm through the city meeting with every community group that would hear them. I live on the edge of three neighborhoods in the city and went to at least 5 different meetings with MGM arranged by different (South End, AQCA, Maple-High Six Corners) groups. MGM was everywhere and talking to everyone, and listening as well.
I have never experienced, as someone involved with many community groups, civic associations, and volunteer organizations in the city, a more accessible group of people than the leadership team at MGM. Yes, MGM outspent the CasiNO group by an incredible amount, as did Mohegan Sun and Hard Rock in their respective communities, but they also backed it up with unparalleled community outreach.
As a result of all of that, every single neighborhood in the city voted in favor of the plan including an overwhelming majority in the ward where the development is to take place and a sixteen point victory over all. In the Advocate it seems as though this should be ignored. The will of the people shouldn’t include “the wrong people”, the people who apparently need to be protected from the evils of gambling. There are a significant number of people in the CasiNO movement who are actually in favor of casino development in the state, but who are against it for urban locations because, apparently, city folk, you know who I’m talking about, can’t be trusted to moderate their intake of enjoyment. The casinos need to be placed a fair distance from them in order to protect them from the evils of casinos in spite of the fact that, according to casino opponents, most of the jobs which will be created at the casino will be for “those people” and require that they somehow get to work someplace in the middle of the woods that doesn’t have public transportation.
The plantation mentality of the upper valley for the lower valley is something we are all familiar with in Springfield. Of course, anyone who has never had the experience of hearing Springfield chastised for not doing enough for the poor by people from Amherst or Northampton at a community meeting of some sort in the City of Homes can have a similar experience just reading the Advocate. No sacrifice is too great for us to make for our poor…as far as the residents of NoHo are concerned. Thanks for that.
Returning to the casino issue, the hypocrisy runs so deep that 61% support for casinos state wide is somehow less significant than 60% support for legalized pot. Governor Patrick’s honest admission that he wouldn’t want a development bringing 12,000 people a day to his hometown of Richmond (population 1,400) is “NIMBY-ism”? Really? I support local agriculture, I belong to a CSA in the city, but I wouldn’t want the buildings on Main Street leveled to put in a farm. I don’t want to live in rural, bucolic Richmond, but then again I love city living, and downtown Springfield is my home.
The proposed MGM casino will bring everything I’ve been hoping to see develop here in the last 30 years…and, yes, a casino. Let’s start at the socio-economic level. My older daughters attended Milton Bradley Elementary in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. The percentage of students attending that school and living in poverty at that time was somewhere in the 80′s. My stepdaughter attends that school now and that number is 97%. If a neighbor gets a job paying $9 an hour and gets health insurance through MGM, his/her compensation will total 2 1/2 times the average family income in my neighborhood. And they won’t even need a car to get to work. Beyond the 3,000 jobs the development could bring (I’d settle for 2,500) it will include market rate housing, 6 movie theaters, thousands of square feet of retail space, a wintertime outdoor skating rink, a bowling alley, and a commitment to maintaining the DaVinci Park and moving that park’s playground equipment to another location in the neighborhood.
For the perpetually cash strapped city of Springfield, $25,000,000 in annual revenue while not adding infrastructure related debt or liability from a footprint which now only pays about $600,000 into city coffers. For the city’s cultural institutions like the Springfield Symphony, the Quadrangle museums, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Community Music School, and others, it will bring a new corporate benefactor, commitments to bring new programming to the already mentioned entertainment venues, and the potential to bring new life to the city’s existing pro sports franchises.
I understand why the people and their political leaders in Northampton and Amherst haven’t pursued casino development in their part of the valley. For the most part people in those communities are happy with the state of affairs and the general progress of the region. That is not the case for most people in Springfield and at this point it is fair to point out that much of the upper valley’s recent prosperity has come at the expense of Springfield. Many upper valley residents are willing to take employment in Springfield and earn some of the region’s highest salaries working for large cultural institutions, hospitals, insurance companies, manufacturing concerns, and governmental agencies, but take their earnings and spend them in Hampshire County. Whether due to issues of race and class, ignorance or ambivalence about the effects of sprawl on the environment and local agriculture, or just a general escapist mentality, people have voted with their feet. Good for them.
I live in Springfield, I know what problems we have here, but I also know our strengths. For good or for ill, we are the future of the valley. We have more children and more jobs than Northampton and Amherst have people. MGM’s plan will add specialty retail and film to the entertainment options downtown while potentially increasing the viability of existing cultural institutions and sports franchises and give more people with options a reason to consider making Springfield their home all the while giving the city’s current residents opportunities for jobs with benefits. Having decided to live outside the city many upper valley residents have given up the privilege of making decisions for Springfield and the truth is, if they really cared about the city, they would be living here already.