Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fate Is Just the Weight of Circumstances

I should tell you to begin  I’ve never understood the appeal of casino gambling, or gambling in any form. I don’t do sports pools, I don’t play cards (for money or otherwise) and as for the entertainment value of watching a wheel spin with a jumping ball that needs to land on a particular spot for me to make money, or wearing a work glove while I’m pulling a handle or pressing a button to “play” the slots, all of that makes as much sense to me as betting on a horse or greyhound dog. And that makes no sense.

I grasp the concept and here in The Land of Steady Habits, who a quarter of a century ago, permitted “Las Vegas Nights” one-night gambling only as fund-raisers for charities (as opposed to bingo, I guess, where some in my old neighborhood would grab six cards and the marker on their way out of the confessional), we now have two HUGE billion dollar gaming operations at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.

Between them they employ many thousands of people who in the course of the (about) two decades they’ve operated have joined the “New  American Workforce” in the service sector, probably I guess because we have enough engineers, programmers, architects and mechanics and could use more bare subsistence wage earners.

Of course, we don’t call it gambling; how déclassé! Now it’s called gaming. Sort of like Scrabble or “Go Fish” except you can lose your life savings very quickly, but all in a family-friendly environment.

The best thing about the casinos in Eastern Connecticut was, aside from some smallish upstate New York stuff and Atlantic City in New Jersey, they were it. If not actually the Golden Geese, in terms of revenues generated for the state of Connecticut who took a 25% cut of all slot machine revenues, then very definitely some other yellow-tinged fowl.

The good times rolled as did the revenues to the state (to satiate its appetite for spending) but other New England states eyed our Connecticut casinos hungrily, as so many of their residents traveled to The Nutmeg State for family-friendly entertainment, and wondered “why not us?” Indeed.

Eventually the Massachusetts’ statehouse and Governor developed a licensing system to place a limited number of ‘gaming sites’ within the Commonwealth. Operators bid for the right to run those sites, obviously with  benefits in tax revenues to the state and perhaps some  to the ‘hosting’ municipalities (and in all cases, at a handsome profit for the operators).

Among those who bid, but unsuccessfully, were the two Connecticut tribal casinos who have now allied themselves with state representatives from both the upper and lower chambers to try to pass legislation creating additional casinos strategically placed along Connecticut’s borders to entice gamblers (‘gamers’ is just too stupid to use in this context) driving through our state on their way to Massachusetts.

This according to this news article and thousands like it in recent weeks and months, will “save jobs here in the region,” which is laudable except (and the point of my screed today), where was this concern to “save jobs” when the bidding for licenses was hot and heavy North of the state border?

Was there a concern, to say nothing of a plan, at that time while pursuing those bids about preserving and protecting the jobs that were back at the Mother Ship in Eastern Connecticut? If so, why not just share that plan now with the lobbyists and legislators who are being stampeded to support what is in essence an expansion of gambling throughout a state that had historically run budget surpluses until it discovered what it thought were Easy Riches?

If not, that’s the part of the  equation that should disquiet us, decades too late after we decided we could retain our balance while riding the tiger’s back, because now we are in danger of being in its belly.

-bill kenny

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