Massachusetts puts fate of its casinos, maybe more, on the line

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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.


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