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Trump critic: Mass. $$$, population can support casinos

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — Massachusetts voters should pay no heed to one-time casino mogul Donald Trump’s warnings that the casino market in the Northeast is already oversaturated, a prominent gaming researcher said Tuesday.

Trump, who no longer has financial interests in casinos in New Jersey, predicted this week that New York’s planned expansion of four upstate gambling facilities would flame out.

“Ultimately, there’s too much competition and they’ll all go down the tubes,” he told the New York Daily News. “The problem is the whole country is becoming one big gambling casino, and many of them will die.”

Clyde Barrow, chairman of the political science department at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said Tuesday that’s Trump’s predictions were unnecessarily dire for the casino industry in New England.

While at UMass-Dartmouth, Barrow’s steady stream of research findings over the years was often cited by casino backers to make a case for their legalization in Massachusetts.

“Let’s keep in mind that Donald Trump filed for bankruptcy with casinos when the market was going gangbusters, so he doesn’t have a very stellar record as a casino operator,” Barrow told the News Service after addressing a group of labor leaders at Boston’s Omni Parker House.

Voters in November will decide the fate of a ballot question that would repeal the state’s three-year old casino gambling law. The state Gaming Commission has issued licenses so far for resort-style casinos in Springfield and Everett and a slot parlor in Plainville at the Plainridge Racecourse. Recent polling has shown Question 3 opponents, who favor keeping the casino law, with an edge.

“Donald Trump got out of the casino business and even he sees that casinos are a bad bet for Massachusetts, for New York and for other states trying to compete in an over-saturated market,” said John Ribeiro, chairman of Repeal the Casino Deal. “If Donald Trump sees casinos are going ‘down the tubes,’ why are Massachusetts’ politicians hell bent on opening up our doors to the corrupt casino culture of failure, predators and empty promises?”

Barrow said his recent research on saturation in the Northeast found that over the past two years alone the casino market has grown by $2 billion. Acknowledging a redistribution of casino dollars, Barrow said New Jersey casinos have suffered from competition in New York and Pennsylvania and Connecticut casinos have been hurt by gaming in New York and Rhode Island.

“There will continue to be some movement of money and redistribution of market shares. But even on top of that redistribution, the market’s grown $2 billion and if you look at the income distribution, the two major areas left in the Northeast for some possible expansion is Massachusetts and New York,” Barrow said. “These are the two states that have the population and the money in their respective regions.”

Barrow discussed his research, which supports claims of job growth and state revenue increases, at an event Tuesday organized by the AFL-CIO, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and UNITE HERE.

Barrow said little evidence exists to support claims that casinos will cause a spike in gambling addiction, suggesting scratch tickets and sports betting are the biggest problem games nationwide. The former UMass Dartmouth professor also offered a counter-argument to the claims by casino opponents that the state’s successful Lottery would be cannibalized by casinos, hurting local aid for cities and towns.

Repeal the Casino Deal, the group behind the ballot question to repeal casinos, has argued that casinos could cost the Lottery up to $103 million in annual revenue, a predicted 21.9 percent decline based on a 2008 legislative study authored by Wayland Rep. Thomas Conroy.

Barrow said the experience in most states has been a slowing or flat-lining of Lottery revenue growth, and in states that did experience a slight decline a rebound occurred within three years.

Connecticut, for instance, saw Lottery sales increase for seven consecutive years after Foxwoods opened in 1992 and sales have grown 46 percent since Mohegan Sun opened in 1996.

Massachusetts casinos are also required by law to sell Lottery products on site, which does not happen in most other states.

Based on revenue projections for three resort casinos and a slot parlor, Barrow said the worst case scenario of an 8 percent decline in Lottery revenue would still leave cities and towns with a net $50 million in additional local aid due to casino revenues steered to state accounts.

For opponents’ claims of Lottery decline to come true, Barrow said, “Something would have to happen that hasn’t happened in 39 other states.”

Richard Rogers, secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, asked Barrow for advice on how to talk to the “affluent liberals” who don’t appreciate the construction jobs that will come from casinos. “They torture us. They consistently say these are lousy jobs,” Rogers said.

Barrow told the audience to “talk past them.” “They don’t get it. They don’t understand what the other 62 percent live through,” he said, referring to the percentage of Massachusetts working adults without a college degree.

Barrow said casinos will result in “social savings,” suggesting that between 15 percent and 30 percent of a casino’s workforce will come from the unemployment line and welfare rolls. “These are jobs that move people off unemployment, off public assistance,” he said.

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