The hour is late, and this is your chance to stand for something great again. I am talking about the casino repeal referendum. Right now, you will go down in history as the governor who brought casinos to Massachusetts. After all the budget battles and ribbon cuttings and political appointments are long forgotten, this is what people will remember you for. Are you OK with that?
I am a selectman from Longmeadow, and the would-be MGM casino in Springfield will be parked on our doorstep. We did not have any say in that decision. In fact, our Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly against it. Under the casino legislation, the Gaming Commission was supposed to take surrounding community input into account, but the MGM license was a done deal after all the other towns in western Massachusetts said no to casinos.
When you were campaigning for governor in 2006, people knew that you were different. You were not just the next Democrat in line for the state’s highest office. You were not just espousing progressive Democratic policies. You were asking us to aim higher, to believe in something larger than ourselves. That was the magic of 2006, and it was recaptured on a national scale in 2008. Together we can. Remember those heady, hopeful days?
You did not campaign on a casino platform. As governor, you mulled over casinos and you weighed the costs and benefits, and I always felt your heart was not really in it. When you knew something was right, when a policy was a moral obligation or a stark necessity, you did not hesitate. You knew where you stood and spoke passionately for it, win, lose, or draw. Casinos were a concession to the budget and political realities of the time.
You are someone who believes in government as an instrument to solve social problems. You decry powerful corporate interests that care little for the public interest and care nothing at all for the powerless in our society. And yet, the casino legislation invites those very corporate interests into our state and confers on them the exclusive and valuable right to do business in a section of the state. If lotteries are a tax on the poor, then what are casinos, with their capacity to rob people of their homes and savings? With the casino law, government becomes an instrument of social destruction. Are you OK with that?
Even as you reluctantly advocated for casinos, you insisted they be more than a means to save Suffolk Downs. You insisted that they be “resort-destination” style casinos because only those would spur tourism more generally in the region. MGM has already admitted that its gambling hall/movie theater/bowling alley complex in Springfield is not going to be a draw for out-of-town tourists, but rather will be a casino for the residents of western Massachusetts. Remember how there were supposed to be multiple cities and towns vying for casino licenses, each trying to out-do the other with an ineffable “wow factor” that would attract visitors from nearby states?
Time has shown that there are precious few places in Massachusetts which want a casino. Where they have been accepted, the casino advocates in cities like Springfield and Everett have had to trade on fear and desperation. “If not this, then what?,” they say, as if the casinos are the last chance to avoid oblivion. The “wow factor” is long gone. This cannot be what you planned, what you hoped for. If the casino legislation is not going to lift tourism and if it is not going to save Suffolk Downs, then what is the point? If the facts change, why not change your mind?
Governor Patrick, your action on the casino referendum could be your last chance to make a difference in public life. Sticking to a pre-set course, refusing to admit that a law has not fulfilled its purposes? That is commonplace. Politicians do that all the time. Opposing a law you helped to enact simply because it is the right thing to do? That is historic. Let us do something great again.