There are reasons to be skeptical about casinos and casino oriented development. The data compiled by Robert Goodman 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.
It is certainly possible that a thorough analysis of all of the data would lead one to conclude that Massachusetts is actually doing the most rational thing. Given that from $600 million to $1 billion of casino revenue in Connecticut and Rhode Island comes from the Commonwealth it is likely that, just in reference to the “one casino job costs one non-casino job” claim made by casino opponents, that right now many hundreds and thousands of jobs are being lost in Massachusetts to out of state casinos and the all of the jobs gained are accruing to our neighbors. Add to that the fact that the state, host communities, and even some surrounding communities will receive direct, guaranteed payments from the casino developers, and it becomes even clearer that the casino concept is not necessarily a bad one.
Given this perspective, the fact that other nearby states are looking at expanding casino development is an argument for, and not against, having casinos in Massachusetts as, at the very least, a defensive proposition. Hand waiving and arguments from the moral high ground are useless when faced with the facts that people in Massachusetts want to participate in casino gambling. Failure to develop them here will not change that fact.
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 could 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 referenda, 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 $800,000,000 development which will also includes utilizing hundreds of 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.
Now we get to it. Given all of this, how is it that the Valley Advocate’s coverage of this process has been so increasingly skewed and one sided? Early on in the process it was implied that the fix was in for Penn National because of its plans 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 plan of MGM I did not read a single line of support for Dominic Sarno. MGM, both before the mayor’s decision and after, continued to barnstorm through the city meeting with every community group that would take them. I live on the edge of three neighborhoods in the city and went to at least 5 different meetings with MGM arranged by at least three different (South End, AQCA, Maple-High Six Corners) groups. MGM was everywhere and talking to everyone, and listening as well.
Not a word of praise for the honest and straightforward ways in which they answered questions. I recall one exchange at a Maple-High Six Corners meeting where MGM president Bill Hornbuckle was asked if MGM would be in the South End if not for the tornado, his answer was that they probably would not, and that the disaster had created a unique opportunity that they intended to take utilize for their advantage as well as the community’s. 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, 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 wouldn’t want to live in rural, bucolic Richmond, but I love cities, and downtown Springfield is my home, and the proposed MGM casino will bring to my neighborhood everything I’ve been hoping to see develop in the last 30 years…and 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 goes there now, and that percentage is 97%. If a neighbor gets a job paying $9 an hour and gets health insurance through MGM, their 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, (Wait, unless we should make sure it’s subsidized for the poor, seems WE can never do too much!!!) 6 movie theaters, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, 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 a square foot if increased infrastructure related debt or liability from a footprint which now only places 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, 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.
With all of this the picture behinds to come in to focus in terms of the Advocate’s coverage. I’m almost 50 years old, and I remember a time when Northampton’s cultural importance to the region was, to be kind, “limited”. It’s no coincidence of course that NoHo has grown in its importance as the region’s major city has declined. As retail fled from downtown Springfield it settled on Main Street in Northampton. As live music dwindled in the City of Firsts, it increased in the City of “whatever-it-is-Northampton-is-the-city-of”. Even with that though, even now, Springfield has much more to offer than the village of Northampton. The Calvin is cute, it hardly matches the grandeur of Symphony Hall, the Smith College Museum is wonderful, but its collection hardly is the equal of the George Walter Vincent Smith, The Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Springfield History…the list goes on. On and on really. No symphony, no pro sports teams, no college where a man could get an associates degree, certainly not 3 where someone could earn a doctorate. No disrespect, I mean, Springfield has more children than Northampton has people, two world class hospitals (though being friends with one IS nice Cooley Dick), the headquarters of a Fortune 100 corporation, public tv and radio stations (too soon?)…and more jobs than Northampton has, well, again, people.
It’s our valley, it’s about time we took it back.