The news that state Senate Democrats are considering expanding gambling—as many as three new facilities—should trigger a thoughtful and not a knee-jerk response. Presenting the issue as a matter of losing jobs to Massachusetts so far rings hollow. All that Connecticut would lose when the Bay State resort casinos are up and running is gambling revenue.
The issue puts The Shad in the awkward position of (so far) not agreeing with lawmakers I highly respect. But simply asked, how is it a job loss? Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said a Tuesday morning news conference that 80 percent of the customers of a new Springfield casino would arrive by bus from Connecticut. “We won’t let Massachusetts bus out our jobs,” he said. Huh? They’d bus out gamblers, not jobs.
What the legislators really want to protect is the state’s gaming revenue. There’s nothing wrong with that. The state has relied on its share of slots money at the two existing casinos (25 percent) for a long time now. If gamblers go to Springfield or if Massachusetts gamblers stay in their own state instead on coming to Connecticut, the state loses.
Without getting into the debate about whether casinos are a healthy economic development strategy, there are a lot of things in play. A Fairfield County casino is being discussed. Think about that for a bit. Isn’t it logical that there is a finite number of people who gamble or want to come to casino in general? Allowing more gambling facilities in Connecticut is unlikely to produce any significant number of “new” people who gamble. In fact, the most likely losers would be the existing Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. More gaming places will dilute the number of people going to eastern Connecticut to play. The two existing venues won’t get the visitors from the Hartford area or Fairfield County if gaming locations open nearby.
In recent years, the economy has hit the two casinos—and therefore the state—pretty hard. That will only increase with more Connecticut outlets. When it comes to the gambling “base,” dilution is not the solution. If the fear is Massachusetts taking away business resulting in downsizing in Ledyard resulting in job losses, the same will be true with new Connecticut casinos.
Then there is the problem of law enforcement. It can’t be good that the state police has said no thanks to the venues and emptied its casino unit. Now the tribes will have to police themselves and any other future facility.
And unbelievably, Keno has reared its ugly head.
Additionally, the claim that Massachusetts has declared economic war on Connecticut seems a tad silly. All Massachusetts wants is the same as what Connecticut has—a somewhat steady revenue stream. Why wouldn’t Massachusetts have a right to retain their own gamblers’ business?
It will take some convincing before the jobs argument is believable. It’s a state revenue issue.