BOSTON — With the casino industry showing signs of retrenchment, voters in Massachusetts may do something that voters nowhere else have done, at least in the last century: slam on the brakes on casino gambling.
Massachusetts was one of the last states to climb aboard the casino craze, approving legislation in 2011 to allow three casinos and a slots parlor. Now it may be the first to reverse itself, with voters deciding in November whether to repeal the law before a single casino has been built.
The stage is set for a multimillion-dollar campaign pitting the casino industry and its allies in organized labor against a coalition of grass-roots activists, religious leaders and mom-and-pop businesses. The two sides have squared off in several town-by-town referendums across much of Massachusetts over the past year, fighting each other to a near draw. Now they are laying the groundwork for an all-out, statewide donnybrook that will burst into public view in September in television ads and on doorsteps as both sides try to secure support, house by house.
The November vote will be closely watched as a bellwether of the industry’s future in the Northeast, where two dozen casinos have sprouted in the past decade, to the point, some analysts say, of saturation.
“If Massachusetts votes to repeal casinos, this could represent a turning of the tide,” said Richard McGowan, who teaches business at Boston College and specializes in casino gambling. “But even if the casinos win, the fact that they’re even having this vote says to the industry that maybe they should think twice about how many casinos they’re opening.”
The nation has a long history of embracing gambling and prohibiting it. After corruption scandals led to bans on casinos and lotteries in the mid-1800s and again in the early 1900s, states brought them back, most recently during the Depression in the 1930s to stimulate the economy. Since then, 23 states have approved commercial casinos. Some states have rejected them, but analysts say no state in recent times has spurned them after legalizing them.
“No state has ever repealed expanded gaming legislation since the modern industry of gambling started in 1931 with Nevada,” said Clyde W. Barrow, a political scientist at the University of Texas-Pan American who studies gambling.
Why is Massachusetts having second thoughts?
When the Legislature voted to allow casinos, the state was limping through a nationwide recession. And Massachusetts gamblers continued to plunk their money down in other states.
But since then, the economy has improved. Red flags have been raised about the overall health of the casino industry. And the tortuous process of awarding casino licenses here has dragged on for three years, with no tangible benefits.
The decline of the casino gambling industry will be on full display this week.
In Atlantic City, N.J., two casinos will close this weekend and a third will shut down in two weeks, something that was unimaginable just a few years ago.
More than 5,000 workers will lose their jobs in an unprecedented Labor Day weekend in the seaside gambling resort, leaving many feeling betrayed by a system that once promised stable, well-paying jobs.
The Showboat is closing today, followed by Revel on Monday and Tuesday. Trump Plaza is next, closing Sept. 16. To the thousands who will be left behind, it still seems unreal.United States - North America - Massachusetts - Deval Patrick - New Jersey - Springfield - Boston - Massachusetts state government - Atlantic City - MGM Resorts International
Associated Press contributed.