An Even Hand: This Year’s State House Hearing on Casinos is more Subdued

By John Lynds

[email protected]

Suffolk Downs’ Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle (center) during last week’s hearing.

It was a more subdued hearing than last year when hundreds of people both for and against legalizing casino gaming in Massachusetts descended upon the State House to enter their testimony on the record.

This time around, the hearing room was half filled as the debate over whether to authorize gaming dragged on for nearly eight hours. The lack of interest this time around could be a sign many in the state as well as a majority of state lawmakers  have already made up their minds on the issue that came close to passing last year.

Unlike last year, state lawmakers mostly stayed away from testifying aside from a handful and the passion both for and against seemed to vanish as both sides went through the motions of entering testimony and making the pitch for a second time that gaming will either save the fiscally strapped state or send it into moral ruin.

However, one thing is clear expanded gaming or full-scale resort-style casinos in the Commonwealth are not going to be as epidemic as crack was in the 1980s as some suggested at last week’s public hearing at the State House.

However, it is also not going to solve all of the state’s fiscal woes as others would suggest.

Somewhere in the middle is where the truth lies.

While testimony came from all sides and angles last week, all eyes in East Boston were focused on the testimony of Suffolk Downs Racetrack Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle.

The famed local horse racing venue has long desired expanding gaming as a way to sure up its struggling thoroughbred industry and hopes to file for one of three gaming licenses if one of several compromise bills to Governor Deval Patrick’s bill last year to legalize resort-style casinos in the state is approved by the legislature.

But before Suffolk Downs is given ‘permission to print money’ as some would put it, the racetrack and its ownership team led by Richard Fields would have to concede to some hefty mitigation that would include solid job creation and roadway and infrastructure improvements.

At last week’s testimony, Tuttle began another round of convincing some nay-sayers in the legislature that the racetrack is not only interested in a gaming license but is willing to create local jobs and improve infrastructure surrounding the track.

“We propose to invest hundreds of millions to immediately create thousands of construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs while improving our existing racing operation, enhancing the area’s tourism economy and providing much-needed support for local traffic and transportation infrastructure upgrades,” said Tuttle last week.

Unlike his testimony last year which included the moral obligations Suffolk Downs would have if it was allowed to open a casino, Tuttle’s testimony this time focused primarily on job creation and job preservation.

“A 2007 analysis showed Suffolk Downs generating 2,300 jobs in the horse racing industry and related agribusiness throughout the state. This includes over 1,000 at the track itself, including our direct employees – mutual clerks, maintenance workers, restaurant, cleaning, security and administrative personnel — as well as the owners, trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, vets, blacksmiths and stable hands licensed by the state of Massachusetts who care for our horses and work at farms throughout the state where our horses are bred, raised and boarded,” said Tuttle. “There are currently 18 registered Thoroughbred breeding farms in Massachusetts. We believe that number could double over the next few years as we improve our purses and racing operations, extending the benefits of expanded gaming to the agricultural sector of the Massachusetts economy.”

Tuttle added that unlike other parts of the state where this type of development may not be popular he believes a casino here would be welcomed as a boost to the local economy and job creation.

“As an existing gaming destination with a 75-year track record as a good neighbor and an employer of thousands through the years, gaming development at Suffolk Downs is welcomed by our local communities – communities like East Boston, Revere, Chelsea, Winthrop and Everett whose residents have been hit hard by the scarcity of good jobs with good benefits,” said Tuttle.

2 comments for “An Even Hand: This Year’s State House Hearing on Casinos is more Subdued

  1. May 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    of John Ribeiro,

    Neighbors of Suffolk Downs

    Before The Joint Committee on Economic
    Development and Emerging Technologies

    Public Hearing on Expanded Gambling Legislation

    May 4th 2011

    Top 10 Reasons To Support An
    Independent Cost Benefit Analysis

    10. The 1999 National Gambling Impact Study
    Commission Had One Major Recommendation: that any State that was considering
    expanding gambling should understand not only the benefits but the cost of
    going into business with the casino industry.

    9. The casino
    industry is a troubled industry. Mohegan
    Sun is $1.6 billion in debt and Moody’s has rated their stock just above junk
    bond status. The State of New Jersey is
    bailing out the casinos of Atlantic City.
    Casino revenue is down in nearly all established gambling states.

    8. Senate President
    Therese Murray, an ardent casino supporter, was quoted in February 2010
    expressing her concerns about corruption: “Every other state that’s done
    gaming, someone goes to jail because it’s done too fast, too sloppily.”

    7. The State will be required to invest between
    $20 and $50 million to establish an oversight commission before realizing one
    red cent in revenue from expanded gambling.

    6. Slot machines will
    signal the death knell of the racing industry in Massachusetts. Caesars Entertainment, the latest investor to
    join the ownership group at Suffolk Downs, has offered the State of Iowa $10
    million to allow it to end dog racing in that state.

    5. Tourists won’t be
    coming to Boston for the casinos; the casino industry wants to come to Boston
    for the tourists. More people visit
    Faneuil Hall than Disney World every year.
    Solid data show that when casinos come to heritage tourism towns,
    visitation to the historic resources plummet as it did in Vicksburg, Miss.,
    where 40 percent of the historic downtown is now shuttered.

    4. Host communities are most directly
    impacted. Violent crime and calls to 911
    increase dramatically over time, quickly outpacing any mitigation funding that
    is offered. Susan Mendenhall, former
    mayor of Foxwoods host community, Ledyard CT said gun and drug crimes are on
    the rise. She also added that emergency
    dispatch calls for police, fire and medical help have risen from about 3,000 to
    15,000 a year since the casino was built.

    3. During the current
    economic downturn, casino states are seeing far greater budget shortfalls than
    is Massachusetts. This includes,
    Connecticut, New Jersey, California and Nevada, which leads in this category
    with a 56% budget shortfall this fiscal year.

    2. It makes perfect
    logical sense for any individual, corporation or public entity to understand the
    costs of doing business before undertaking any new venture. New Hampshire has done this and Rhode Island
    is preparing to do the same. We in
    Massachusetts must understand what is in store for us before we make such an
    intractable change to the culture and character of this great State.

    1. The casino
    industry spent $6 million during the last legislative session trying to
    convince this body to enact expanded gambling legislation. If this were such a good idea, why would they
    need to spend a single penny? This body has
    been entrusted with the duty and responsibility to act on behalf of and in the
    best interests of the People of the Commonwealth. If expanded gambling legislation is passed without
    an independent analysis of the benefits as well as the costs having been
    completed, this body will have failed to protect the very people they serve.

  2. Follow The Money
    May 25, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Even if generous Suffolk Downs casino job-creation estimates were indeed accurate at a level of 2,300 as stated above; if at least as many middle- to low-income individuals and/or families and/or members of the local community were negatively impacted as a result of the new casino (e.g. from increased levels of gambling addiction, spousal and child neglect and abuse, theft/crime, substance abuse, etc., etc.), would this proposal make any sense at all? Nope.

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