Why The Casino Bill Should Piss You Off

I’m pissed off about this casino bill about to pass the House and Senate. And I don’t care whether you think Las Vegas is heaven on earth or gambling is the devil, you should be pissed off, too. Forget for a second the relative merits of bringing three casinos and a slot parlor to Massachusetts. What stinks about this bill is the way it was made. It was drafted in secret, at times debated in secret, and now, as a final kick in the pants, amended in secret.

The latest insult came Monday night when House and Senate negotiators shifted over $10 million from local aid to a “horse racing development fund.” Let’s be clear: that’s $10 million that should be going to schools, police, and firefighters that our brilliant lawmakers think would be better served propping up the very much dying (yet very politically connected) industry of horse racing. It was outrageous enough when the first draft of the bill set aside 9 percent of slots-parlor revenue for the horse racing industry. This is even worse. That this decision was made during a closed-door session once again just shows the utter fecklessness of our legislature.

All along the way, there have been other outrages. One that comes to mind is how the Senate refused to debate in public whether legislators and other state officials needed a cooling off period before working or lobbying for a casino. Instead, Senate President Terry Murray settled the issue behind closed doors, coming up with an insufficient one year waiting period.

Even the inclusion of a slots parlor at all is emblematic of our state’s broken politics. You can make an argument that resort casinos will benefit the economy, fine. But studies have shown slot parlors will only hurt our economy. Does anybody really think there would be a slot parlor included in this bill if Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo didn’t have two racing tracks in his district dying for the one-armed bandits?

The speaker’s predilection for the tracks, of course, brings us back to this ridiculous matter of local aid being diverted to growing grass for horses to chew, or whatever that “horse racing development fund” is supposed to do. There are reports now that lawmakers are working to remove that amendment to the bill. Good, but it doesn’t make me feel much better. The Globe editorialized today that the casino bill is so flawed that Governor Patrick should veto it. That’s fine, but I’d rather he veto the House and Senate.