Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three casinos in different regions of the state could saturate the area with gambling, cut into existing lottery revenues and irreparably damage the state’s historic charm, according to two Somerville legislators who oppose the measure.
State Representatives Carl M. Sciortino, D-Somerville, and Denise Provost, D-Somerville, both said they are skeptical of Patrick’s promise that casinos in the state will generate 20,000 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues annually.
Sciortino said legalizing gaming may create new jobs within the casinos but could also shut down the surrounding businesses because of traffic congestion. Provost said new gambling options will likely cut into lottery spending, which goes directly to cities and towns. And filling Massachusetts with casinos will harm its reputation as a tourist attraction for visitors seeking cultural and historic landmarks, she said.
“If we start building casinos everywhere we may be taking away from New England’s traditional image and charm. Folks may start going to Vermont or Maine to get the real thing if they can’t get it here. It will not be all pure winnings. We have to look at the losses as well as the gains,” she said.
Patrick has said his authorization of three resort casinos is an important part of a strategy to strengthen the state’s economy and create new jobs. “Done the right way, destination resort casinos can play a useful part, along with other initiatives in life sciences, renewable energy and education reform, in providing our Commonwealth with sustainable, long-term economic growth,” he said in a statement.
Patrick announced Monday he would recommend the state sell three licenses for hotel casinos. He suggested the casinos be licensed in three regions: Southeastern Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, and an area that includes Boston and points north. His announcement came after months of studying the issue privately.
A fourth casino could eventually end up in the state if the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe fails to outbid other competitors for its plans for a resort-style casino in Middleborough. If the tribe does not receive a license, it could still go through a federal approval process for its casino, Provost said.
Sciortino said he believes New England will reach a saturation point with three new casinos in Massachusetts and the two existing ones in Connecticut. “People will not be coming from out of state for these casinos. The money generated will be coming out of Massachusetts residents pockets,” he said.
The state Legislature will have to approve Patrick’s plan if it is to move forward. In a statement released Monday, Patrick said the money casinos are expected to generate is vital to repairing the state’s roads and bridges and providing cities and towns with property tax relief. However, Provost said last year the House refused to support slot machines in racetracks, a sign the Legislature may not welcome three new casinos in the state.
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone called the allure of new money from legalized gaming “fool’s gold” this week. He said he would rather see the legislature pass Patrick’s municipal partnership act which would increase state aid to cities and towns through a variety of measures, including closing corporate tax loopholes.
“When I initially endorsed Governor Patrick I envisioned the new industries he would build for the state to be in the life sciences and bio-tech fields, not three casinos,” he said.