Silliness Buried In the Casino Bill

The coming casino debate has a whiff of anticlimax, as it appears that passage is all but assured, given the lack of elected opposition.

However, there’s one detail of the bill that cries out for correction. As a principle, the bill calls for a referendum to be held in each potential host community for a casino.

Solid reasoning, right? Except, buried deep in the fine print, is an exemption for communities greater than 125,000 in population. In those communities, only the ward with the potential site needs to vote its approval in an election.

The impact of this provision sets a separate standard for Boston, Springfield, and Worcester from the other 348 municipalities in the state.

In Boston, wards vary in size from a mere 11,645 in Ward 8 to 59,280 in Ward 18. The key ward in this discussion is East Boston (Ward 1 with 38,413 residents), the likely site of a future casino.

I suspect any vote, whether citywide or in Ward 1, would approve a casino, but that’s not the point. Should 6.5 percent of the city’s population be able to make a decision about a casino that will doubtless have positive and negative impacts on the rest of the city? Residents of the other wards in the city will also receive some of these benefits and shoulder many of the costs, why doesn’t their vote count?

Wards are a feature of political geography and appear to be used primarily to organize local political groups (e.g. entities like the Ward 20 Democrats or Ward 5 Republicans make endorsements in local elections). They are not a political authority and have no power to tax or spend. No other approval is done on a ward-wide basis, so what makes casinos different?

Let’s fix the bill and stay true to the principle of giving the entire community a voice in the process.


Crossposted on Pioneer Institute’s blog.