Thursday, May 15, 2008

Casinos in Massachusetts

Back in the old days, before I had a blog, there was some talk about bringing casinos to Massachusetts. The idea was squashed by house Democrats in March, but state Senate Republicans are now trying to bring it back up.

I'll admit, the idea of a casino that close to my hometown puts me ill at ease. I have a bit of an issue with the fact that gambling is an industry predicated on profiting off of people's false hopes, but the main issue is NIMBY

. I don't like the idea of people putting Boston and Atlantic City in the same breath.

On the other hand, I've always had a bit of a libertarian streak in me; I think people should generally be trusted to make their own decisions, and I'm very wary of the government legislating morality. Gambling can cause problems for some people, but for many others it's a harmless and occasional distraction. The government should help those who develop gambling problems — and probably force the industry to pay for it, as they do with cigarettes — but those problems do not justify outlawing the industry altogether.

So I'm putting my money where my mouth is: I'm in favor of allowing casinos in Massachusetts, not because I see a valid reason for legalizing them, but because I don't see a valid reason for banning them.

What frustrates me is that the ideas of freedom and self-determination are hardly ever brought up in the debate. The pro-casino side focuses almost exclusively on the jobs Massachusetts casinos would bring and the tax revenue they'd generate. The revenue issue, at least, seems dubious at best; I've heard of several studies that report that after you factor in extra police, medical and other municipal services, states break about even on casinos. The jobs are more significant, but they still shouldn't be the only issue.

The irony is that the state says gambling is immoral enough to warrant banning casinos, but at the same time runs its own lottery. There's no reason for the government to be in the business of running lotteries in the first place, but to bar the private sector from running its own gambling services on moral grounds is plain hypocrisy.

1 comment:

Andrew Beckwith said...

I mostly don't agree. I DO agree that it's silly for the government to legislate morality, even though it's done so since governments first came into existence. But for me, that's not what this is about. Casinos ruin communities. Atlantic City is worse off now than it was before gambling was legalized, as are many other cities, like Biloxi, Joliet, Reno, etc. Casinos are magnets for organized crime, are huge drains on municipal and natural resources, and aren't a great solution when it comes to job creation. (Casinos tend to underemploy people, hiring part-time workers that don't get benefits - underemployment is a huge problem in Las Vegas, and the abject poverty in Atlantic City speaks for itself.) This isn't about allowing people to make their own decisions when it comes to gambling (nothing is preventing a motivated gambler from going to Indian reservations in Connecticut to gamble, for example). I understand the NIMBY argument, and that's partly what this is about. But unlike, say, a garbage dump or a prison, which are necessary to the functioning of society, I think the better argument for casinos is NIABY (not in anybody's backyard).