IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG for the powerful casino industry to muscle its way into Massachusetts politics. Beginning in the early 2000s, corporate lobbyists began giving unprecedented amounts of money to elected officials on Beacon Hill to convince them to support expanded gambling. By 2009, leadership in the House, Senate, and the corner office all supported legalized casino gambling in Massachusetts. Back then, opponents of expanded gambling emphasized that casinos would hurt local communities and snatch customers away from small businesses. We also warned that powerful corporate interests would begin clawing away at the limited legal protections put in place for Massachusetts residents in the casino law.
Now, our worst fears about casinos are coming to fruition. The Wynn Casino hasn’t even opened, and yet it already managed to sneak a provision into the fiscal 2018 House budget that would allow casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. This provision became law when Gov. Charlie Baker failed to veto it by the end of July.
This exemption from our state’s alcohol laws is a danger to public safety and gives casinos an unfair advantage over local bars and restaurants. As opponents have argued for nearly a decade, casinos can have devastating impacts on the health and success of local economies.
When casinos arrive, existing businesses suffer. Local businesses see fewer profits and greater personnel costs as the result of increased drug and alcohol problems among employees after the introduction of gambling. Moreover, because of these costs, new businesses generally do not relocate to areas that already have casinos. In Atlantic City, the number of restaurants dropped from 311 to 66 in the 19 years following the introduction of casinos.
Casinos are especially dangerous to local communities because they differ from other forms of entertainment. Unlike sports stadiums or concert venues, casinos are designed to meet the customer’s every need. Casino patrons can access restaurants, shopping centers, lodging, and entertainment within the casino complex. This means that local businesses will not receive an increase in business from the traffic brought in by casinos. In fact, residents might relinquish local goods and services in favor of gambling. As more Massachusetts families spend money at casinos, less money will flow to small businesses, non-profits, municipal governments, and the arts.
Several studies have suggested that legalized gambling hurts the state lottery. A decrease in demand for the lottery could have a negative impact on small business owners. The lottery brings people into small, family-run convenience stores where they also make other purchases. When casinos intervene, this money is instead funneled to big corporations, almost entirely out of state.
The new law that allows casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. is a troubling example of the influence that corporate special interests wield on Beacon Hill. Concerned residents need to be more aware, and wary, of the next demands that are made from elected officials as the casinos in Everett and Springfield come closer to opening.
Jamie Eldridge is a state senator from Acton.