Monday, November 2, 2015

Casinos In Massachusetts: There's a Reason It's Called Craps

Snake Eyes (noun) 1) A throw of two ones with a pair of dice, the lowest possible score;  also refers to bad luck; from the apparent resemblance of a throw to a snake's eyes, or from the association of snakes with treachery.

Maybe it’s called “craps” for a good reason. 

Craps is a game of wagering money. Folks roll two six sided dice and then bet on the outcome of number combinations. The worst possible roll is snake eyes, a pair of ones. Toss that result, the odds of which are one in 35, and your chances of winning plummet. That’s why Snake Eyes is considered one of the worst wagers on a craps table. 

Snake Eyes.

Massachusetts rolled the dice on legalized commercial casino gambling in 2011. Remember? Back then the politicians on Beacon Hill were positively giddy in their predictions. Gambling revenues would just pour into state coffers, save the budget!  Unions loved casinos because of the jobs they promised, thousands of good paying gigs, right? Desperate urbanites in Springfield and Everett envisioned gleaming high rise hotel towers, luring gamblers and tax receipts into their blighted downtowns.

What could go wrong?

Four years later, just about everything. Only the one slots parlor is open, in Plainville. After the rush of the first few months, revenue has fallen and continues to miss hoped for projections.  MGM has backed away from its initial vision for downtown Springfield, shrinking its plans. The casino in Everett is caught up in lawsuits and litigation.  And now there’s a chance that not one, but two casinos might spring up in Brockton and Taunton, the latter being built by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which recently received tribal recognition by the federal government. There’s more bad news.  In New England, casinos are springing up like weeds, threatening to over saturate the market for folks willing to roll the dice and lose their money.

Snake Eyes. 

I’m no gambling Puritan. I’ll buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot soars, just for fun.  Lotteries actually paid for the construction of many churches in Massachusetts in the 19th century.  It’s not that Bay Staters don’t already like to roll the dice: per capita sales for lottery tickets here are among the highest in the nation: more than $700 per person.  Only Rhode Island beats us out at more than $800 for every citizen of the Ocean State. 

Yet to me, as a person of faith and proud Bay Stater, there is still something tawdry, creepy, and very sad about a people or a place depending so much upon the financial losses and misery of its citizens, to fund the government. In gambling the house always wins. That’s a sure bet. So we fund our schools when a senior loses their Social Security check in Plainville.  When a low income Mom spends hundreds of dollars on a false dream and a handful scratch tickets.  When a suburban Dad spends the mortgage money on a trip to the race track.

Think about it.  Is that right? Is that good? Or is gambling instead the moral equivalent of Snake Eyes, ethical craps?

There is something shameful about the fact that in America’s 43 states where the lottery is legal, we already shell out $70 billion a year on this losing proposition.  That’s more than we spend on any other leisure activity: movies, music, sports, or books.  There’s something weird about the fact that America’s newest betting obsession—fantasy sports gambling on sites like the locally based Draft Kings--these are bankrolled in part by the very same people who own the sports teams, like the Kraft family who control the New England Patriots.

In the end, here’s a sure bet.  Gambling is always built on an illusion, the lie that if we spend enough, have good enough luck, others may lose, but we will win. We will beat the odds. We will roll the dice and avoid snake eyes.  Gambling promises financial gain for little or no work. Gambling preys upon our deepest economic insecurities.  Gambling is the laziest form of economic development.  

So now that Massachusetts is “all in” when it comes to casinos, the results are starting to become clear, and so far it’s a losing proposition. Snake Eyes.

Why am I not surprised?

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