Catholic Conference Calm on Casinos

In our last post, we said the front page of the most recent edition of The Pilot raised eyebrows at BCI for two reasons.  The first of those was the CNS article about the U.S. Labor Secretary that failed to mention she was pro-abortion.  The second reason was this article, “Governor, legislative leadership announce casino bill.”  Our issue concerns the apparent lackluster response to this legislation by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.

There are many reasons cited in the article for every citizen–Catholic or non-Catholic–to oppose casino gambling:

  • The only [cost-benefit] study, produced by the gaming industry in 2008, expects that the state’s current economic woes will be in the past by the time casinos arrive. It does not factor in the consequences of other bordering states like New York and New Hampshire legalizing casinos. It also does not consider the social costs of excessive gambling. Critics say that these oversights lead the study to greatly overestimate revenue and job creation.
  • In Massachusetts, the leadership’s casino bill proposes that 25 percent of revenues would go to the commonwealth. The projected amount of $400 million predicts that there will be $1.6 billion in total revenues. Critics say that even considering a sizable recapture of funds spent by Massachusetts gamblers in out-of-state casinos, residents would still need to gamble and lose more than $1 billion. That amount is neither realistic nor prudent, they say.
  • “Casinos represent the most predatory business in America today because they are based on pushing people into deeper debt,” Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling, said. “Government needs to get out of the predatory gambling business….states should be encouraging their citizens to save money and get out of debt, not to rack up credit card debt on slot machines.
  • The website for United to Stop the Slots in Massachusetts (USS Mass) says casinos and slots prey on the addicted, gaining the highest profits from the few who visit frequently and lose the most money. Somewhere between 70-90 percent of casinos’ profits come from 10 percent of gamblers. Studies have shown that five years after a casino opens, the neighborhood sees an increase in robberies by 136 percent, aggravated assaults by 91 percent, auto theft by 78 percent, burglary 50 percent, larceny 38 percent and rape 21 percent. They have also shown that within a 50-mile radius, addiction to gambling doubles.

Two Op-Ed pieces in the Boston Globe criticized the legislation.  In “Beacon Hill surrenders to casinos,” we heard:

“The capitulation to expanded gambling in Massachusetts represents a failure of imagination and will…Gambling revenue – like user fees, naming rights, specialty license plates, and other forms of “voluntary’’ contributions to government – erodes a fundamental idea of democracy: that we’re all in this together….it asks the most from those who can afford it least…Gambling is “a tax on people who are bad at math.

Jobs are good, but casinos don’t so much create jobs as replace them, cannibalizing other local businesses to benefit some corporate giant in Vegas or Malaysia. For every Foxwoods in isolated Ledyard, Conn., there is an Atlantic City, hollowed out except for the pawn shops.

And gambling addictions plague not just individuals; states can also get hooked on the revenues. Once they become dependent, states are vulnerable to increasing demands from their casino kingpins, whether it’s larger profits or looser regulations. Bet on it.

In “Casino bill is deeply flawed; rank and file should kill it” we hear complaints about specifics of the legislation, including that slot parlors, “create relatively few jobs and are one of the most addictive forms of gambling,” the plan to direct 9% of revenues from the slots parlor to subsidize purses at horse tracks, provisions that would prevent the City of Boston from voting on gambling at Suffolk Downs, and other special interest provisions.

“After years of false starts, legislative leaders and Governor Patrick hammered out a new agreement behind closed doors last month to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts. It’s a deeply disappointing bill, full of just the kind of inside deals and special-interest giveaways that Patrick once vowed to fight. Now it’s up to rank-and-file lawmakers to reject the plan….

If Massachusetts is going to embrace an industry with a history of sparking public corruption and attracting organized crime, the state’s legal framework must be above reproach. It’s widely assumed that the Legislature will bow to the leadership and support the deal. But lawmakers need to stand up for the greater good.”

This Globe article describes how the legislation was crafted behind closed doors:

Casino opponents, outnumbered in the Legislature, criticized lawmakers for writing the bill behind closed doors and for not conducting a fresh cost-benefit analysis.

“Fundamentally, I believe this represents a tax on the poor,’’ said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat. “I don’t deny at all that there are some benefits that would come to the state. The question is, do those benefits outweigh the costs? And I don’t believe they will.’’…

Patrick is now a year removed from a tough reelection fight that prompted him to temper his support for gambling to appeal to liberals who oppose casinos. For months, he and his aides have worked closely and behind closed doors with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to draft the latest proposal.

The private talks effectively sidelined critics, who accused the governor and lawmakers of wiring the bill for passage before it even hits the floor of the House and Senate for debate next month.

“Just the brazen, almost arrogance to the taxpayers that this is how Beacon Hill conducts business,’’ said Kathleen Conley Norbut, an antigambling activist from Monson. “It’s a special-interest-driven political proposal that leadership has crafted, yet the impacts to the people who live in the region and who pay taxes are still not clearly vetted.’’

But legislative leaders defended their approach, saying they want to prevent another bitter public battle.

So, in view of all this, what does the new Executive Director of the Mass Catholic Conference say about this? According to The Pilot:

James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), said the state’s Catholic bishops have always been “adamantly opposed to expanded gaming.” Any upside of such gambling is outweighed by its social costs, he said.

Opponents of Class 3 gaming continue to call for an independent cost-benefits analysis, but a bill requiring such a study has received little attention. SB150, filed by Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) on Jan. 19, asks for a qualified research institution to look into all outcomes for the state and individual communities.

But, Jimmy, what are you and the Catholic Conference DOING about this? Are you meeting with the House Speaker, the Senate President and other legislators?  What is our plan to oppose this? If it is important for there to be an independent cost-benefits analysis, why has MCC never asked Catholics to contact legislators to support the bill calling for the study?  A good way for something to get little attention is for no one to call attention to it.  People who get the MCC email alerts say they have heard nothing from MCC about gambling this year.  The last email was in July, concerning support for homeless youth.  Maybe there is a big plan to mobilize Catholics to call for the cost-benefits analysis and to oppose this legislation, but if there is, the article says nothing about it. The absence of any communication from Driscoll towards this end, including the absence of any email communications to Catholics, leave the impression that the Catholic Conference and Massachusetts bishops are planning to do nothing. Hopefully, that is not the case, but the absence of communications give that impression.

At least the President of the Mass Family Institute, is quoted in the article as saying, “He and others urged voters to call the governor and their elected representatives.”

When James Driscoll was announced as the new Executive Director of MCC, an AP article in the Boston Herald reported the following:

Massachusetts is a heavily Catholic state whose lawmakers have shown a consistent willingness to defy the church on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Right now, lawmakers are considering bringing legislation that would legalize casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts, a move the church opposes and an issue Driscoll said will likely be big from the start of his new job.  He rejected the notion that the church has a diminished voice among lawmakers…

BCI wrote at the time in this blog post: “His new role lobbying against gambling should be interesting after he spent 19 years as the general counsel responsible for defending the lottery.”

Even a teenager writing a letter to the Globe has communicated more words on this issue than MCC has to its constituents.  The teen wrote:

Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature need to get their morals straight. They understand the downsides of casino gambling, and it is irresponsible for them as leaders to shamelessly promote casinos as good for the Commonwealth.

Instead of stopping the casino bill, government officials are being swayed by the short-term gains of increased revenues and jobs. As for the opponents of the casinos, it is too bad if they are getting “tired’’ of the fight. If protecting the Commonwealth from legalized gambling is worth fighting for, they should keep going. It is the responsibility of the few casino opponents to continue to debate the issue in the Legislature.

Gambling is an addiction. Compulsive gamblers fail to realize that, inevitably, they will lose more than they will win.

James Driscoll collects a nice six-figure salary. He, coincidentally, is the first cousin of Kevin Driscoll, husband of six-figure-salaried Secretary of Institutional Advancement, Kathleen Driscoll.  Kevin and Kathleen sit on the Board of Catholic Charities together with James Brett, who, coincidentally, was one of the 5 members of the search committee that selected James Driscoll.  One might think James Driscoll would be eager to prove that he came into the job on his own merits and without the help of a family connection. Given James Driscoll knew the gambling issue would “likely be big from the start of his new job,” in the opinion of BCI, he is not off to a very big start as far as leading opposition to this legislation and calling for the cost-benefits study.

The absence of MCC communications give the impression–perhaps inaccurate–that the guy who defended the state lottery for 19 years is not doing much on this issue. Casino gambling is not just a “Catholic” issue–it is an issue for the common good. For the benefit of the citizens of the commonwealth, we need Mr. Driscoll and the Massachusetts bishops to not surrender on this issue. It seems to BCI that at minimum, weekly email communications and a call to action with instructions for people to contact their legislators should be in the plan. If BCI, for free, can post a few blogs a week, surely a paid staff of 3-4 people at MCC charged with communicating the public policy voice of the Catholic bishops could at least send out an email or two on such an important issue. If they need help communicating their plan and call-to-action, they can let us know and we are glad to help here at BCI.

Hopefully there is a plan in the works. We will wait and see…

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6 Responses to Catholic Conference Calm on Casinos

  1. jbq2 says:

    Very good posting. The amount of nepotism in the archdiocese is overwhelming. The smoke filled backroom of the state has sucked in the archdiocese. Someone who legally supported the lottery for 19 years will not turn against it. These are “smoke and mirror” jobs. Casinos nationally generate a lot of income for the politicians. One example, here in Missouri, is the education fund. Money is budgeted for education. Any additional revenues slotted for education generated by casinos and the lottery only push the minimum amount in the education fund back into the general revenue which serves for increased salaries.

  2. Mack says:

    Legalizing gambling is not a good way for the state to gain revenue. Instead, it could loosen some of the regulatory burden on small businesses. According to a study at George Mason University, Massachusetts ranks #43 in economic freedom, close to the bottom of the barrel. Creating a more favorable business climate would help grow the economy in a useful way. Gambling only drains it.

  3. Alice Slattery says:

    If James Driscoll lived within two-miles of where a casino was to be built, with all of the hotels,bars,etc. that would be built to accommodate the patrons of the casino, I wonder if he would have mobilized all of the Catholics that the Mass. Catholic Conference has on their mailing and email list, to call their representatives to put a stop to building the casino. I don’t know what else could ever move James Driscoll to act on this issue since, to my knowledge, he has done nothing to date.
    There needs to be transparency regarding his job description. His job description should be made public and a detailed evaluation should be made public regarding how he is meeting the requirements for the job.
    There appears to be no accountability to the parishioners of the Boston Archdiocese who are the ones who supply the money for his salary.

  4. BobofNewtn says:

    Not to worry folks. The casino bill will pass with the overwhelming support from the majority of both Houses, both of whom have an overwhelming majority of Catholics in both Houses. So much for all the allegiance they pledge to the RCAB! BTW, why get all up in arms about a paper that no one reads!

    Enjoy the beautiful weekend.

  5. Dan Brown says:

    It’s clear BCI is being read by the higher-ups in the Pastoral Center as we saw with not one, but two e-mails from the MCC urging Catholics to contact their legislators….right before the fait accompli was actually voted. No MCC amendments and no announcement from the pulpit at least at my parish. It’s clear there is no interest from the bishops to promote positive social change. If there were, they might work with groups such as the Mass. Family Institute. But make no mistake about it, we’ll surely see another MCC-driven push for some kind of social justice based policy before year’s end.

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