Massachusetts, place your bets

Last Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick released a proposal to build three casino resorts in Massachusetts in order to raise revenue to repair infrastructure and increase employment opportunities in the commonwealth.

Naturally, the proposal has come under fire from lawmakers and citizens alike who say that the benefits of casinos will be offset by problems they cause, both social and economic.

One of the biggest concerns is that building casinos will only divert money from the state lottery without appreciably raising total revenues.

According to a behavioral survey released by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis this past February, residents of Massachusetts made 6.9 million separate trips to Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun Casinos during the previous year. The survey also found that Massachusetts supplies Connecticut’s two casinos with approximately 36 percent and 21 percent of their patrons, respectively.

In a nutshell: Bay Staters love to gamble, and that money isn’t going to the Massachusetts State Lottery.

For residents concerned about the scope and makeup of the project, Gov. Patrick has made it clear that he does not intend to turn Massachusetts into Las Vegas or Atlantic City. In a Sept. 17 Boston Globe article, the governor stated his interest not only in the casinos themselves, but “in what amenities go around them: the hotels, the entertainment, maybe a golf course, for example.” The planned casinos are simply part of a larger plan to bring tourism to the commonwealth, and much of the draw will likely be family-friendly activities.

Another concern is social: Why, ask concerned community members, would the governor and his administration consciously decide to wrest the life savings from poor, defenseless gambling addicts?

There are three answers to this question. The first is that these poor, defenseless gambling addicts are already throwing millions of dollars over the border into the Nutmeg State.

The second answer is a simple rebuttal: Under Governor Patrick’s plan, 2.5 percent of every casino’s gross revenue would be allocated to a new Public Health Trust Fund. This money would then be used not only to combat gambling addictions, but also to fight against other social maladies like child abuse and domestic violence.

The third answer involves personal responsibility. The role of government, including that of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in lifestyle choices has been debated for hundreds of years. The American people have spent generations calling into question the amount of control that a governing body should have over its people.

But the people of Massachusetts are not children, and the governor is not a babysitter. It is imperative that residents and gamblers take responsibility for their actions and show the same amount of self-control that one would expect in any other area of public life.

These casinos will pull tourists from neighboring states, increase revenues and increase employment in Massachusetts. Gambling is not a panacea for the commonwealth’s ills, and there is no absolute certainty that this proposal will work – but the odds are good enough to take that bet.