Monday, September 12, 2011

A Massachusetts Bet We'll All Lose


“All hail to grand old Bay State, 
the home of the bean and the cod,
Where pilgrims found a landing 
and gave their thanks to God.
A land of opportunity in the good old U.S.A.
Where men live long and prosper, 
and people come to stay.
Don't sell her short but learn 
to court her industry and stride;
All hail to grand old Bay State! 
The land of pilgrim's pride!”
            --from the official state song, 
“All Hail to Massachusetts!” by Arthur J. Marsh

It’s just not “Massachusetts”, no other way to phrase it. It’s not who we are, not what makes this our state so special, such a great place to live and to work and to raise children and to call home.  I’m talking about the impending legalization of casino gambling right here in the Bay State in the weeks ahead.  Three brand new casinos and the expansion of slot machine parlors: KA-CHING! Though a vote has yet to be taken and the Governor hasn’t given it his signature, all signs indicate this just may be a done deal, pun intended.

I’ve heard all the pro-gambling arguments.  Scores of new construction and gaming jobs.  Increased tax revenues for the state and local cities and towns.  If gamblers don’t bet here then they’ll just spend their money elsewhere, in Connecticut and New Jersey.  The Globe reported on Monday that several northeast states are also moving into the gaming business with legalization and expansion legislation and ballot questions pending in Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire and Maine.  So if we are going to do it, we have to do it now and do it quickly, right?

But as someone who was born and grew up here, a loyal native, who has lived in many other places but always come back home to Massachusetts, I’m sad at the prospect of a trio of behemoth casinos becoming a part of our social fabric.  Let other states, in their fiscal desperation feed at the trough of gambling, make a devil’s deal with the gamers and go all in for the tawdriness and the seduction of gambling.  Which glitters like gold and calls forth like in warped siren song, but ultimately comes up short and is finally spiritually and morally empty.

You can’t win if you don’t play!  Just one more bet and you’ll win it all back.  If I just stack up those chips and pull the slot’s arm and parlay this poker hand, I’ll make it to easy street, right? 

Those are all big lies, of course.  For in gambling, the house always wins.  Always. The odds are forever stacked against the poor souls who bet. The kind of gambling industry we’re talking about is not the relatively harmless kind: the occasional lottery ticket, a bingo game or a day at the races.  These casinos are going to be huge and will draw thousands into their myth of “a sure thing”.  And that’s not Massachusetts, at least not for me.  That’s not how I want to see my state raise revenue, take money out of the pockets of so many folks who can’t even afford to gamble, never mind feed their families or make their mortgage payments.  How about you?  Is that how you want to see your local public school funded? On the backs of the poor, at the poker table? Not me. That’s just not Massachusetts.

No. Massachusetts is great universities and cutting edge scientific research, world class hospitals and history unlike any other state in the country. Massachusetts is the birthplace of the American Revolution, is the Kennedys and the Adams and museums and the arts.  Massachusetts is where the Industrial Revolution blossomed, where the telephone was born, where the computer was birthed in a high tech miracle.  Massachusetts is fishing out of Gloucester and hard scrabble manufacturers who keep America moving. Massachusetts is a rich tapestry of immigrants yesterday and today: the Irish, the Italian, the African American, the Asian American, the Dominican, the Brazilian, all come here and mixed together in a gorgeous tapestry of history and culture. Massachusetts is pristine shorelines and windswept beaches, apple orchards in the fall and quiet walks on a snow capped Boston Common in winter. Massachusetts is title-town: the bruising Bruins, the cardiac kid Red Sox, the dynasty Patriots and the best basketball team ever, the Celtics.

I know I’m totally biased in making this argument.  I know I risk sounding snobby or parochial in claiming that Massachusetts is unique, one of a kind and definitely not the kind of place to become the northeast’s gambling mecca.  But here’s the truth: there’s just about no where else in the entire world I’d rather live.  I love calling Massachusetts my home.  And if and when the gambling bill passes and those “resort destination” casinos are built, Massachusetts will be much the less for it.  Our revenue coffers may fill up, but we’ll all lose a bit of our collective civic souls in the process. 

This just won’t be Massachusetts anymore, and that’s one bet I just will not and cannot make. 

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org).  If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org or in care of The Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@cnc.com).


          

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