I’d like to first thank Tyler Leahy for writing about the casino issue in last week’s Student. As a resident of Springfield and a Springfield College faculty member, I often felt most people avoided the topic out of a sense of hopelessness or fear of antagonizing others for no useful purpose. Tyler made an effort to approach the topic in a reasonable way, and I admire writers who jump into the fray in order to invite more thoughtful responses. He attempted to see casinos neither as “knights in shining armor” nor as “fire-breathing dragons” but as something in the middle.
But he takes some big steps in order to make these metaphors work. The most difficult assumption to swallow is that MGM Springfield will create many jobs and that “certainly this is a positive aspect that even gambling naysayers cannot refute”. Although there will most likely be some good construction jobs, they won’t last. The long-lasting jobs will not be good ones, despite the many signs that successfully made this a referendum on jobs. They will be low-pay jobs cleaning toilets and making beds. This will be good for some who have no job, but where will the money really come from to pay for these jobs?
What casino supporters ignore at every opportunity is to explain who will fund this “nice and shiny package.” The answer is that Valley residents will fund them and every other casino investment. MGM is not in the business of “rescuing” Springfield from economic collapse. MGM is coming here to make as much money as possible, and they will be taking it from everyone’s pockets. Casinos are already everywhere in the Northeast, so this will not be a “destination” casino. If people come, they will come from within 50 miles of Springfield. If an average casino patron loses $50 at MGM (and they have to lose in order for MGM to stay in business), that’s $50 that residents of Springfield, Northampton, or Amherst won’t be spending in their home community, so it won’t go into local pockets or be spent on local problems. So the entire region is going to suffer economically. If the casino succeeds, the Pioneer Valley will see a slow economic drain that will make current economic problems worse.
And if the casino doesn’t succeed? What if people don’t come? That’s a real possibility since casinos are failing already in New Jersey and elsewhere. In that scenario, we end up with a big white elephant in downtown Springfield that doesn’t generate the tax revenue city officials had dreamed of. Either way, Springfield loses. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the well-known social fall-out from the mere presence of casinos- increased crime, corruption, domestic violence.
So Tyler is right about one thing– it won’t be a ravaging disease. It will be a slow and painful one masquerading as a knight in shining armor.