Slots In My Backyard

As you may have heard, a massive primary election is planned for this Tuesday involving the biggest names in national politics (I even saw one of them on Oprah). Most folks are not quite as tuned in to the primary campaigns for the four open seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

With all due respect to the State House hopefuls, generally these things aren’t worth much more than two yawns and a head-scratch. But the campaign in at least one district does offer some interesting perspective on the state’s casino debate—or at least what Gov. Deval Patrick hopes becomes the state’s casino debate.

The good people in the eight Eighth Essex district—encompassing Lynn, Marblehead and Swampscott—are desirous of the casino windfall that Patrick has promised. They just don’t want them in their backyard. Considering that East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, and Revere’s Wonderland Park are in their backyards, that could be a problem.

I talked yesterday with John Blaisdell, one of the Republican candidates in the district. He was particularly concerned about being overwhelmed by permanent gridlock on the already highly-trafficked Route 1A, which runs between East Boston, Revere, and the North Shore.

“The roadways in that immediate area, there is no conceivable way they could accommodate that additional traffic. It’s already a problem,” he said.

Those concerns aren’t enough for him to run against gaming, though. Casinos have been a prominent topic in all of the candidates’ public forums, and of the five primary hopefuls on Tuesday’s ballots (two Republicans, three Democrats), only one, Tanya Degenova who is opposed, has taken a firm stand against the Governor’s bill. The rest are riding the fence, waiting to see how the debate in the House turns out.

“On casino gambling, I’m not opposed to it,” Blaisdell said. “But as I’ve stated in every forum, we need full disclosure on revenues received on casino gambling and how it’s going to be returned back to the communities.”

So you see, the money’s the thing. It’s not a secret that municipalities across the state badly need cash, and Patrick’s plans would theoretically kick back millions to them. Yeah, but still…what about all that traffic?

“It would have a very strong negative impact at either of these locations. And I emphasize the word, ‘negative.’ The roads around here simply could not handle that,” Blaisdell said.

It’s tough to reconcile these perspectives, but hey, if local government is based on nothing else, it’s NIMBYism. I also talked to Democratic candidate Lori Ehrlich, who has also taken a cautious stance on casinos. She said she’s heard a lot of negative reaction from people fearful of having overwhelmed roads, but boy, would they love to have that extra revenue. She said parents, especially, “are more willing to accept some of the trade-offs if funding for education is boosted.”

Patrick’s bill attempts to deal with the NIMBY problem by mandating casino referendums in host communities—a highly sensible approach. Of course, as voters in the Eighth Essex district will tell you, the problem is that casinos are so big that they effect the lives of residents well outside of their host communities.

So, while the outcome of this particular election may not be of the most interest to everyone out there, it does portend one thing to come: people are about to get very protective of their backyards, but that won’t stop them from sticking their hands out for money.