The near certain passage of casino gambling in Massachusetts raises questions for the two groups proposing casinos here, and for Maine voters who must ultimately say yes or no to those projects.
The Massachusetts Senate voted late last week for legislation that would allow three resort-style casinos.
The House proposal would go one step further, allowing casinos plus 750 slot machines at the state’s horse- and dog-racing tracks.
Two Indian tribes, meanwhile, are also seeking to establish gaming complexes.
So, within the next five years, the Bay State will have at least three new casinos, and possibly more.
In Maine, voters will consider one casino proposal this year and, possibly, a second one next year.
The argument for casino gaming is always twofold. First, the jobs it would create and, second, the tax revenue it would produce.
Both assume that a large number of out-of-state visitors would be attracted to Maine to gamble or make a casino visit part of their vacation itinerary.
The addition of even larger casinos in Western Massachusetts and the Boston area, however, will certainly cut into the potential take for Maine’s casinos.
Still, the public’s appetite for casinos shows no sign of abating, even as the opportunities for gambling grow.
A Boston Globe story last week reported that once gambling gets a foothold in a state, it always grows.
The number of casinos nationwide has increased to nearly 900 as of last year from about 600 over the past decade, according to the Globe story. States authorized more than 11,000 electronic or video betting terminals during the same period, according to the American Gaming Association.
It’s probably fair to assume that a casino or multiple casinos in Maine would draw out-of-state tourists, people who come here for other purposes and simply add a casino visit to their plans.
But, as gaming opportunities expand in other states, it seems more likely that the bulk of casino revenue would come from Mainers themselves.
For instance, how likely is anyone from Boston to come to Lewiston to gamble when they could visit a casino in their own region?
If mainly Mainers end up at our casinos, then the job-creation angle of building a casino disappears.
A trip to a movie and a restaurant might become a few hours at the slot machines. Money for a new car or a trip to the mall might go toward gambling instead.
California recently discovered that its welfare recipients collectively were using state-issued debit cards to withdraw an average of $227,292 per month from automatic teller machines located inside casinos.
Instead of buying necessities, they were pouring their welfare money into games of chance, proving that even the poorest of people will forgo other purchases for the allure of gaming.
If that’s the case, a job at a casino simply becomes one lost at some other business as discretionary revenue shifts.
We hate to suggest projects for other people, but perhaps the Maine State economist could analyze what impact Massachusetts casinos could have on casino projects in Maine.
The information might help Maine voters as they assess the wisdom of allowing gambling here.