Rep. Joseph R. Driscoll: Jobs, revenues make casino plan a chance worth taking

Rep. Joseph R. Driscoll

Two years ago, I had an opportunity to speak to the AARP chapter in Braintree. My talk focused on prescription drug assistance, health care and quality of life issues for seniors. At the finish, I was surprised that the first question I fielded and several subsequent questions regarded gaming and casinos.

My experience has been shared by my colleagues in the House from across our state and has caused each one of us to re-examine our position on the issue in light of the demand for this entertainment and leisure activity, the projected revenues and promise of job creation.

With the leadership of Gov. Deval Patrick, we now have before us a comprehensive resort-casino proposal that deserves an up or down vote on its merits.

We are fortunate on the South Shore to have tremendous resources. We have strong, vibrant communities, with excellent schools; access to our capital city by road, rail and boat; institutions of higher learning; and a strong local and regional business climate.

These very same factors, however, have led to dramatic increases in property values at a time when state local aid has been unpredictable. The adoption of this legislation will improve our infrastructure and reduce the pressure on property taxes.

Daniel O'Connell, secretary for economic development, recently testified before a legislative committee that in 2006, 25 percent of Massachusetts residents reported making at least one trip per year to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, amounting to almost 7 million visits. Of the $435 million to Connecticut's general treasury that year, $119 million came from Massachusetts residents. The total amount contributed from Foxwoods to Connecticut between 1992 and 2006 is $2.3 billion and from Mohegan Sun from 1996 to 2006 it's $1.5 billion.

Perhaps just as interesting is the fact that citizens of New Hampshire and Maine spent about $100 million in these same Connecticut casinos in 2006. People are now passing through Massachusetts to get to casinos.

Instead of hoping that Granite State residents might stop in Braintree for a bite to eat, I propose that the Legislature get behind Gov. Patrick's balanced proposal and realize the benefits of this new revenue stream. The projected revenues for the state are large. The legislation imposes a minimum initial fee of $200 million to obtain one of the three licenses.

Investment banks, whose mission it is to value projects and proposals, have estimated these assets to be at least $800 million in the aggregate.

This is a significant difference from a previous proposal in the Legislature that would have given free licenses for slot machines to race tracks. These assets have significant value and the estimated $800 million is money that goes into the state fund before a casino even opens its doors.

Once the doors have been opened, the projection for sustained revenue is $400 million per year to Massachusetts. These funds, under Gov. Patrick's bill, will be split between infrastructure and property tax relief.

The legislation also provides protections to hold harmless the state lottery and the essential revenue stream it provides to municipalities, and predicts a spin-off effect of $50 million to $80 million in revenues from existing sources such as the taxes on income, sales, corporate excise, property, meals and hotels.

As a former prosecutor, I am confident that public safety and mental health issues were fully considered and addressed in the bill. Recognizing the potential social costs, the legislation creates a Community Mitigation Trust of $100 million per year for public health and other purposes and a new division is created within the Office of the Attorney General for the purpose of regulatory oversight and criminal investigation.

Additionally, several important community safeguards have been put in place and lessons have been learned from the implementation of gaming in the 37 other states that have adopted it. The host community must support the proposal and the proposal must comply with full regulatory and environmental processes.

The development of casinos will create tens of thousands of construction jobs and an estimated 20,000 full time, good-paying jobs with full benefits. Cognizant of the value of race tracks and the jobs they have produced over generations, I am pleased that the administration has pledged to work with the owners of race tracks to preserve employment opportunities there as well.

Some have sincerely advanced the argument that gambling amounts to retrogression. I disagree. The proper implementation of resort casinos in Massachusetts promises to be a progression in the revenue streams available to us and the entertainment options available to our citizens.

Rep. Joseph R. Driscoll represents the 5th Norfolk District, which includes Braintree, Holbrook,land Randolph. He lives in Braintree.