Editorial: Don't bet on racetrack slots

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Maybe the state's racetrack owners have been hanging around their customers too long. Like the guys holding $2 tickets for a race that has yet to begin, they are promising to give away money they haven't yet won.

The owners of Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville and Wonderland in Revere say they have sent letters to officials of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns detailing the riches that would descend upon them if only the Legislature would enact their bill allowing them to install thousands of slot machines in their facilities.

In the letter, the racetrack owners predict the benefits, almost down to the penny: Framingham would get $4 million; Milford $2 million; Franklin $1.6 million; Marlborough $2.6 million.

Numbers like that easily grab the attention of local officials coming off an unpleasant budget-writing season.

"I am very intrigued," said Jason Smith, chairman of Framingham's Board of Selectmen. "I would be very open to ideas that would increase revenues to the town of Framingham."

Some officials greeted the letters with justified suspicion. The state has a history of reneging on promises of more local aid. But this isn't even the state promising these millions. It's two business owners trying to build support for legislation specifically designed to bail our their struggling enterprises.

Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't support slots at the state's four racetracks, arguing that full-service "destination resort casinos" would generate more revenue with less social harm. House Speaker Sal DiMasi, whose opposition sunk Patrick's casino proposal, doesn't support slots at the tracks either. DiMasi says he may allow the House to vote on a racetrack slots bill - though not necessarily the bill promising all that local aid - but it won't happen this session. Maybe next year, DiMasi says.

In other words, don't spend that local aid money yet.

Rather than betting their political capital on a racetrack slots bill that has stalled at the gate, local officials should focus first on defeating the income tax repeal that would almost certainly result in billions of dollars cut from local aid. Then they should lean on their legislators, Patrick and DiMasi to deliver the local aid cities and towns need and the property tax relief Patrick promised.