Meetings & Information


Monday, July 6, 2015

Gaming Commission playing games with open meeting rules

Herald: Gaming Commission meets behind close doors regularly
The Boston Herald reports the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has spent more than 100 hours in meetings that were kept from the public. "A Herald review of more than 1,000 pages of the commissioners' individual public calendars dating back to 2012 uncovered questionable ways the commission has been able to meet in full, despite the strict requirements of the state's Open Meeting Law preventing 'deliberation' in private," writes Chris Cassidy of the Boston Herald. Some of that time is spent at weekly "commissioners' lunches" where no records are kept on the topics.

Gaming Commission playing games with open meeting rules

Photo by: 

Ted Fitzgerald
PRIVATE EYES: Gaming commissioner Bruce Stebbins had a calendar entry suggesting some ‘deliberation’ was done in private.


The state’s Gaming Commission has spent more than 100 hours in secret meetings that were off-limits to the public — including “agenda-planning” sessions, weekly “commissioners’ lunches,” and at least one 90-minute conference with the gambling industry’s former top lobbyist, a Herald record review found.
A Herald review of more than 1,000 pages of the commissioners’ individual public calendars dating back to 2012 uncovered questionable ways the commission has been able to meet in full, despite the strict requirements of the state’s Open Meeting Law preventing “deliberation” in private.
Weekly “commissioners’ lunches” inside the body’s downtown Boston office — lasting between one and two hours — began in July 2013 and are still held each Wednesday. No records are kept on the topics, and the lunches are closed to the public, according to spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.
“Commissioners discuss social matters, organizational structure and morale,” Driscoll said. “The commissioners do not discuss any matter that constitutes public business within the jurisdiction of the commission.”
But former Inspector General Greg Sullivan of the Pioneer Institute said he found that hard to believe.
“You can only talk about Tom Brady and ‘Deflategate’ for so long,” Sullivan told the Herald. “Eventually, the conversation probably drifts around to the subject of Massachusetts gaming.”
At least one commissioners’ lunch even featured a special guest — Frank Fahrenkopf, who had stepped down as president of the American Gaming Association one year before he met for 90 minutes with the MGC on Oct. 22, 2014.
Asked why that meeting had to be conducted in private, Driscoll said it was a “training session,” which is allowed under the Open Meeting Law, “to provide his perspective ... on the overall international status of the gaming and racing industry.”
The MGC also holds private “agenda-planning meetings” for up to two hours every other Wednesday.
They often immediately follow the lunches, putting the commission in combined private meetings together for nearly four hours at a time.
Driscoll said commissioners don’t deliberate during the “agenda-planning meetings,” which are also attended by director-level staffers, but “discuss the upcoming public meeting agenda” and materials needed for commissioners’ packets before the public meeting the following week.
Driscoll provided the Herald with a sample “draft agenda” and a “to-do list” that helps staff compile the agenda.
While the commission insists deliberations are conducted and decisions are made only in public meetings, Commissioner Bruce Stebbins had a one-hour entry on his calendar on Sept. 17, 2014 — the day after the Commission awarded a casino license to Wynn Resorts — with the subject line “Conference Call — MGC.”
“I was hoping we could strategize and discuss some critical topics in light of yesterday’s license decision,” Stebbins’ entry stated.
Driscoll told the Herald: “Commissioner Stebbins cannot recall if that conference call actually happened.”
She said “his intent was to have an agenda-setting conversation” with staff and “possibly” Commissioner Gayle Cameron about the future of racing and the employees at losing bidder Suffolk Downs.
The MGC also held a few “commissioner dinners” in late 2012 and early 2013, the calendars show.
Sullivan told the Herald the Gaming Commission’s structure — where the commissioners all work out of the same office — is a problem.
“It’s vulnerable to violations of the Open Meeting Law because of the design of the agency and the decisions the Legislature made,” said Sullivan. “It’s an inherently problematic situation because of the extremely unusual arrangement whereby the commissioners are full-time employees that work in the same building.”
Some of the datebook information the Herald requested could not be produced.
Stebbins’ calendar from March 2012 through the end of 2013 was “unavailable due to technical issues caused by his BlackBerry,” the MGC told the Herald.
Driscoll insisted the commission has acted within the law and has held 156 public meetings since 2012 — all of which require prep work.
“The commissioners never discuss or deliberate on any matter of public business which is, has or could be before the commission,” Driscoll said.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bingo Hall on Martha's Vineyard

In this photo from August 2014, the unfinished tribal community center sits on the Aquinnah Wampanoag reservation.

In this photo from August 2014, the unfinished tribal community center sits on the Aquinnah Wampanoag reservation. The state and the tribe are asking a federal judge to settle whether the tribe can turn the unfinished community center into a gambling house on the famous resort island. A hearing on the request is set for Aug. 12. Philip Marcelo, Associated Press File

A corporation representing the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is moving ahead with turning a tribal community center into a gaming facility, according to a representative of the corporation.

This stone marks the entrance to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head property, which includes the tribe's headquarters, housing and community center where the casino is planned. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times file|
This stone marks the entrance to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head property, which includes the tribe's headquarters, housing and community center where the casino is planned. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod 


Posted Jul. 5, 2015

AQUINNAH — A corporation representing the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head is moving ahead with turning a tribal community center into a gaming facility, according to a representative of the corporation. A federal lawsuit is pending on whether gaming is allowed on the tribe’s 485 acres, however, and a town official and a tribe member questioned the plans on Friday as well.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag Gaming Corporation, established by the tribe to run gaming facilities, plans to install electronic bingo at the community center, corporation representative Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said Friday. She confirmed the corporation is moving ahead with the plans based on federal approvals and tribal regulations, she said.

“We’ve always been moving forward,” Andrews-Maltais said.

Tribal Council Chairman Tobias Vanderhoop did not respond to requests for comment.

The 6,200 square-foot community center is owned by the tribe but control of it was assigned to the corporation a few weeks ago, Andrews-Maltais said. Any construction related to conversion of the building into a gaming facility would be within the existing footprint, she said.

The goal of the gaming facility is to raise revenue to provide services for tribe members, both on and off the island, and generate more year-round economic growth on the island, Andrews-Maltais said. A gaming facility would infuse more money into the island’s hotels and restaurants, and create more year-round jobs, she said.

Dukes County, which includes Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, has about 17,000 year-round residents. About 300 of the tribe’s 1,200 members live on Martha’s Vineyard, Andrews-Maltais said.

The Wampanoag tribe is not proposing to offer casino table games like blackjack, craps and roulette.

“I know we will be meeting to discuss the tribe’s plan to move forward,” Aquinnah Selectman Juli Vanderhoop said Friday. The town hasn’t received any paperwork about the use of the community center as a gaming facility, she said. That type of use would violate the town’s zoning bylaws, she said.

The selectmen will meet Monday morning in executive session to discuss legal issues related to the tribe’s plans, based on what town officials know from newspaper accounts and other information, Selectman Jim Newman said.

There has been increased activity around the center, according to a July 2 story in the Vineyard Gazette. Also, a classified advertisement appeared in the Gazette seeking licensed electricians and helpers for a “10+ week commercial Aquinnah Casino project starting July 6.”

Andrews-Maltais confirmed that the corporation did run the help-wanted newspaper ad for the construction planned at the community center.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” Aquinnah resident Beverly Wright said Friday. “I am a tribal member. They have not kept the tribal membership informed. I do know they are planning on trying to turn it into a casino.”

Wright said Friday that while she supports the tribe’s business plans for gaming generally, she is opposed to gaming on the island. “It just flies in the face of what we have all worked so hard for, and especially our elders that bore the brunt of living here, to keep our land sacred,” Wright said. “It can be a business for us but it can’t be a business here on the Vineyard.”

Logistically, the two-lane roads, the heavy summer traffic and the small amount of land the tribe owns only adds to the reasons to oppose gaming on the tribe’s island property, Wright said.

The tribal lands are located in the remote southwestern corner of Martha’s Vineyard.

A referendum to ban gaming on the tribe’s island land failed by few votes a year ago, but a second similar petition with 74 signatures was filed two weeks ago with tribal leaders, who have 50 days to act, Wright said.

Meanwhile, in a federal court case filed in 2013,the state of Massachusetts and the tribe have asked a federal judge to settle whether the tribe can build a casino on the island. In court records, the tribe says the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act permits them to offer certain types of gambling because they are a federally recognized tribe with jurisdiction over about 485 acres in Aquinnah. They say recent legal analysis from other federal authorities support that claim.

The state counters the tribe specifically forfeited the right to offer gambling when it reached a settlement with Massachusetts for those lands in 1983. The agreement stipulates the tribe was subject to local and state laws in effect at that time. It was subsequently approved by state lawmakers and Congress.

Massachusetts, joined by the town of Aquinnah and a local community association, is suing the tribe. Each side has asked the judge to decide the case on the arguments rather than take it to trial, and a hearing is set for Aug. 12 in Boston.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Did Wynn investigators get special access?

Did Wynn investigators get special access? 
Let's face it: If the Olympics weren't on full display, the media would be obsessing about the city's fight with Wynn Resorts and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Boston's legal fight with Wynn Resorts and MGC took another nasty turn Monday when the city issued a slew of subpoenas and claimed that private investigators for Wynn were given access to confidential files and wiretap reports in the attorney general's office as they looked into issues of ownership of the disputed Everett casino site, the Globe says. Among the more than a dozen people subpoenaed are former state police officers, members of the Patrick administration, including former Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, and executives at Hard Rock Cafe, which kicked the tires on the Everett land before Wynn stepped in and eventually secured the Eastern Mass. resort license. Commission spokesperson Elaine Driscoll accused the city of trying to "litigate meritless claims in the press." Coming up in the case: A July 9 hearing on a motion by the MGC to dismiss the city's suit. The Herald, for its part, says if it can be shown that Wynn's investigators were allowed into what it calls the AG's "wiretap room," that could be enough to prompt the MGC to yank Wynn's license.

Macau Gambling Revenue Falls for 13th Straight Month

Dealers stand at sic bo tables inside the Galaxy Macau Phase 2 casino in Macau, China. ENLARGE
Dealers stand at sic bo tables inside the Galaxy Macau Phase 2 casino in Macau, China. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

Macau Gambling Revenue Falls for 13th Straight Month

Anticorruption measures and visa policies are among the factors blamed for the dramatic slump in the Chinese casino hub

Macau’s gambling revenue fell 36% from a year earlier to 17.36 billion patacas ($2.17 billion) in June as the world’s casino capital continued to wither under pressure from China’s crackdown on corruption.

June’s performance marks the 13th straight month of declining gambling revenue in the Chinese territory, according to government data released Wednesday. Over the first six months of 2015, revenue has fallen 37% from the same period last year, including a record 49% drop in February. The losing streak follows five years of uninterrupted growth.

Executives and analysts attribute the dramatic slump primarily to a crackdown on corruption led by China’s president, Xi Jinping. In addition to bringing down many top mainland officials, the sweeping campaign has scared off high-rollers, they say.
Other factors that have hurt Macau’s gambling revenue include increased oversight of UnionPay cards that many gamblers use to access funds in Macau, new smoking restrictions at casinos and tighter visa policies for mainland Chinese visitors to the territory.
While the government continues to push for a full smoking ban that would outlaw even the smoking lounges that casinos created to comply with the current restrictions, it also this week announced that, effective July 1, it would relax the visa restrictions it introduced a year ago.
Credit Suisse analysts Kenneth Fong and Isis Wong called the visa news, which caused casino stocks to rally, a positive policy signal in a Tuesday report.
Analysts at Wells Fargo disagreed. “We don’t think this policy announcement signals a sustained shift in China’s policy toward Macau, or an easing in the anti-corruption campaign,” wroteCameron McKnight and Tiffany Lee of Wells Fargo in a Tuesday report. “If China is trying to drive Macau revenue growth down to a longer term growth rate of 10% or so, monthly revenues could have another 10% of downside,” they warned.
Write to Kate O’Keeffe at

Tribal casinos, protected by sovereign immunity, face challenges from gamblers claiming abuse

Tribal casinos, protected by sovereign immunity, face challenges from gamblers claiming abuse

The Associated Press
FILE - In this June 29, 2006, file photo, a table game area is reflected on a ceiling mirror in Foxwoods Resort Casino on the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn. Lawsuits making their way through federal courts are testing the principle of sovereign immunity when it comes to abuse claims at tribal casinos. So-called “advantage players” are made to feel unwelcome, regularly being tossed and and blacklisted. But gamblers have limited options to press claims of mistreatment at Native American-owned properties, which generally are shielded from lawsuits in outside courts by laws recognizing tribes’ sovereignty (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, File) 

By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — For gamblers skilled at counting cards, it can be especially risky to play at America's tribal casinos: Those who have gotten caught tell stories of seized winnings, wrongful detentions, or worse.
Casino bosses everywhere have ways of making so-called "advantage players" feel unwelcome, regularly tossing and blacklisting them. But gamblers have limited options to press claims of mistreatment at Native American-owned properties, which generally are shielded from lawsuits in outside courts by laws recognizing tribes' sovereignty.
Now, a pair of lawsuits in federal courts is testing the principle of tribal immunity in cases involving allegations of abuse and bias in tribal justice systems.
The cases, in Connecticut and Arizona, involve crackdowns on advantage players who say they use card-counting or other methods that shift the odds in their favor, but generally are not illegal.
"You do not have a level playing field," said Stanford Wong, a Las Vegas-based gambling expert who advises readers of his newsletters to be aware that tribal properties are governed by their own laws. "In a tribal casino, there's no recourse whatsoever. You can't sue them in regular court. The odds are all stacked against you."
At the country's largest Indian casino, Foxwoods in southeastern Connecticut, three gamblers from China claim the casino wrongly seized $1.6 million deposited as "front money" and $1.1 million in winnings after accusing them of cheating at mini baccarat during a graveyard shift on Christmas Eve 2011. The gamblers said they used a card-monitoring practice called edge-sorting, which involves players being able to tell the difference between some cards because of imperfections on their non-playing sides.
The gamblers including Cheung Yin Sun, a woman known as the "Queen of Sorts" for her card-monitoring skills, said they were denied the lawyer of their choice in tribal proceedings that ended with a ruling against them by the tribe's gambling commission.
When the gamblers filed suit in federal court, the casino's owner, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, argued it had immunity, and a federal judge in early June dismissed the suit. An attorney for the plaintiffs on Wednesday filed notice of an appeal.
In the United States, there are 493 Indian casinos and 1,262 commercial casinos. In 2013, tribal casinos generated $28.3 billion in revenue while commercial properties had $37.7 billion, according to the Casino City research firm.
The options available to gamblers who want to press a claim depend on the contracts between tribes and the host states, which typically grant rights to operate locally in exchange for a share of revenue. The state of Connecticut, which does not require the tribe to waive sovereign immunity, has seven gambling regulation officers assigned to Foxwoods, but their role is limited to testing of the slot machines whose revenue is shared with the state. The state has no oversight of table games.
While tribal gambling commissions answer to the same tribes that own the casinos, National Indian Gaming Commission spokesman Michael Odle in Washington said they operate independently. He said those alleging a lack of impartiality could make the same argument about federal courts handling cases involving the U.S. government.
George Henningsen, chairman of the Pequot gaming commission, said it's difficult to dispel allegations of bias because it's typically only losers who speak out about their experiences with tribal justice.
A handful of lawyers around the country with expertise in gambling disputes say the worst horror stories are at tribal casinos. While some hope to bring pressure to put tribal properties on the same legal footing as commercial casinos, one attorney, Bob Nersesian, said he is more focused day to day on helping the clients who call with claims of abuse.
In the Arizona case, advantage players filed suit after they were detained on suspicion of cheating in 2011 at the Mazatzal Casino, owned by the Tonto Apache Tribe. A federal judge in Arizona last year ruled that sovereign immunity did not apply because tribal officials involved were named in their individual capacities, and an appeals court affirmed that decision on Tuesday.
One of the plaintiffs, Rahne Pistor, said the officers who detained him did not identify themselves as police and grabbed his genitals as they assaulted him.
"I simply had won more money than they liked," Pistor said, "so they kidnapped me, handcuffed me, forced me into an isolated back room in the casino and physically stole whatever money they could out of my pocket."
Nersesian, the plaintiffs' attorney in the Mazatzal case, said such disputes do not discourage advantage players from visiting tribal casinos. If anything, he said, they draw them out in greater numbers by showing the games can be beaten.
"It's more like somebody dying from a hot shot of heroin," he said. "As soon as that happens, the market goes up, not down."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Addiction is not a disease.....

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse

A psychologist and former addict insists that the illness model for addiction is wrong, and dangerously so

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it's time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse (Credit: Alex Malikov via Shutterstock)

The mystery of addiction — what it is, what causes it and how to end it — threads through most of our lives. Experts estimate that one in 10 Americans is dependent on alcohol and other drugs, and if we concede that behaviors like gambling, overeating and playing video games can be addictive in similar ways, it’s likely that everyone has a relative or friend who’s hooked on some form of fun to a destructive degree. But what exactly is wrong with them? For several decades now, it’s been a commonplace to say that addicts have a disease. However, the very same scientists who once seemed to back up that claim have begun tearing it down.
Once, addictions were viewed as failures of character and morals, and society responded to drunks and junkies with shaming, scolding and calls for more “will power.” This proved spectacularly ineffective, although, truth be told, most addicts do quit without any form of treatment. Nevertheless, many do not, and in the mid-20th century, the recovery movement, centered around the 12-Step method developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, became a godsend for those unable to quit drinking or drugging on their own. The approach spread to so-called “behavioral addictions,” like gambling or sex, activities that don’t even involve the ingestion of any kind of mind-altering substance.
Much of the potency of AA comes from its acknowledgement that willpower isn’t enough to beat this devil and that blame, rather than whipping the blamed person into shape, is counterproductive. The first Step requires admitting one’s helplessness in the face of addiction, taking recovery out of the arena of simple self-control and into a realm of transcendence. We’re powerless over the addictive substance, and trust in a Higher Power, and the program itself, to provide us with the strength and strategy to quit. But an important principle of the 12 Steps is that addiction is chronic and likely congenital; you can be sober indefinitely, but you will never be cured. You will always remain an addict, even if you never use again.
The flourishing of the 12-Step movement is one of the reasons why we now routinely describe addiction as a “disease.” To have a disease — instead of, say, a dangerous habit — is to be powerless to do anything except apply the prescribed cure. A person with a disease is unfortunate, rather than foolish or weak or degenerate. Something innate in your body, particularly in your brain, has made you exceptionally susceptible to getting hooked. You always have and always will contain a bomb, the important question is how to avoid setting a match to it. Another factor promoting the disease model is that it has ushered addiction under the aegis of the healthcare industry, whether in the form of an illness whose treatment can be charged to an insurance company or as the focus of profit-making rehab centers.
This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility.
One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)

“The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency. A striving Australian entrepreneur becomes caught up in the “clarity, power and potential” he feels after smoking meth, along with his ability to work long hours while on the drug. A social worker who behaves selflessly in her job and marriage constructs a defiant, selfish, secret life around stealing and swallowing prescription opiates. A shy Irishman who started drinking as a way to relax in social situations slowly comes to see social situations as an occasion to drink and then drinking as a reason to hole up in his apartment for days on end.
Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.
As Lewis sees it, addiction really is habit; we just don’t appreciate how deeply habit can be engraved on the brain itself. “Repeated (motivating) experience” — i.e., the sensation of having one’s worries wafted away by the bliss of heroin — “produce brain changes that define future experiences… So getting drunk a lot will sculpt the synapses that determine future drinking patterns.” More and more experiences and activities get looped into the addiction experience and trigger cravings and expectations like the bells that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, from the walk home past a favorite bar to the rituals of shooting up. The world becomes a host of signs all pointing you in the same direction and activating powerful unconscious urges to follow them. At a certain point, the addictive behavior becomes compulsive, seemingly as irresistibly automatic as a reflex. You may not even want the drug anymore, but you’ve forgotten how to do anything else besides seek it out and take it.

Yet all of the addicts Lewis interviewed for “The Biology of Desire” are sober now, some through tried-and-true 12-Step programs, others through self-designed regimens, like the heroin addict who taught herself how to meditate in prison. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a psychologist would argue for some form of talk therapy addressing the underlying emotional motivations for turning to drugs. But Lewis is far from the only expert to voice this opinion, or to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns.
Without a doubt, AA and similar programs have helped a lot of people. But they’ve also failed others. One size does not fit all, and there’s a growing body of evidence that empowering addicts, rather than insisting that they embrace their powerlessness and the impossibility of ever fully shedding their addiction, can be a road to health as well. If addiction is a form of learning gone tragically wrong, it is also possible that it can be unlearned, that the brain’s native changeability can be set back on track. “Addicts aren’t diseased,” Lewis writes, “and they don’t need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it.”
Laura Miller
Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" and has a Web site,