Kevin Cullen

No say? You bet

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / June 29, 2010

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You’ve got to hand it to the people on Beacon Hill who are hellbent on bringing casinos to Massachusetts: They’re managed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people, and hardly anybody seems all that upset.

Community residents are supposed to have a say on whether casinos get built in their midst. But a lot fewer of them will have a say after some clever maneuvering by state lawmakers.

One of the casino-related amendments passed by the Senate last week redefined what constitutes a “host community’’ in any city with more than 125,000 people. Only Boston, Worcester, and Springfield have that many people, by the way.

If, as expected, one of the casino licenses is for East Boston, you would presume that the host community would be the City of Boston. You could even argue the host community should include Revere, Chelsea, and Winthrop, given the impact a casino would have on those neighboring communities.

But according to language passed on a 24-to-15 vote, “if the gaming establishment will be located in a city of 125,000 or more residents . . . ‘host community’ shall mean only a ward in which the gaming establishment is to be located for the purpose of receiving a certified and binding vote on a ballot question at an election.’’

They don’t call it gaming for nothing. That’s gaming the system, ensuring that only a small group of voters has to be convinced of the wisdom of putting a casino in their neighborhood.

Translated: It’s easier to win over one neighborhood than a whole community.

Senator Anthony Petrucelli, the Democrat who sponsored that amendment, represents not just East Boston, but Winthrop, Revere, Beacon Hill, the North End, and Cambridge. The amendment’s approval effectively disenfranchises many of his own constituents.

Petrucelli is a fine fellow — he’s said all along his desire to generate jobs drives his stand on casinos — but he didn’t call me back to explain his reasoning on the “host city’’ amendment.

Disenfranchising voters is just one of the casino-backers’ tricks. In the casino business, the house always wins, and the state Senate is trying to give the house everything it wants — so casinos will not balk at other regulations firmly established in state law and culture. The only thing casino-backers lost was getting an exemption on the smoking ban.

In the same week Massachusetts state troopers buried one of their own, a father of four run down by an accused drunk driver while he was questioning another accused drunk driver, the Massachusetts Senate voted to let casinos serve free booze to their customers.

What do you call a state that endorses the concept of getting its citizens liquored up and taking their money in a game of chance that’s stacked against them?

“Nuts,’’ said Susan Tucker, a Democrat from Andover, and one of a minority of senators who thinks this is madness.

“We outlawed happy hours in this state because we had statistical evidence that they increased the number of fatalities and serious injuries,’’ she said. “And now we’re saying it’s OK for casinos to have an open bar? We’re overturning our public safety laws for a predatory industry.’’

Welcome to Mississippi-on-the-Charles, where anything goes, as long as it convinces some corporation that it’ll be able to maximize its ability to fleece people. We are so desperate for jobs, so desperate for tax revenue, that we will sell our collective souls, and then redefine what constitutes those souls.

To be fair, the Senate is asking the casinos to step up to the plate on at least one thing: The bill would require casinos to check their parking lots regularly for abandoned children and animals.

“Maybe it’s me,’’ Susan Tucker said, “but if we believe there are going to be children and pets abandoned because of this industry, should we be facilitating them? I don’t remember ever requiring a biotech company to check its parking lots for abandoned children.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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