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Another Casino Story

Gambling and politics and the next generation

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My 12-year-old daughter was adamant: “Please! Not another casino story.”

(Sorry, Charlotte. I can’t help myself.)

We were walking the dog on a recent morning. And I was still fuming about the video I’d seen 10 minutes earlier posted at Masslive, the Springfield Republican’s website. The spot amounted to an infomercial for MGM, with a handful of casino executives each taking a turn to pitch the company’s plan for a mega-resort in downtown Springfield. But it was presented as news.

I really didn’t want to think about the Republican, or casinos, or the politics behind casinos. I didn’t want to think about something that keeps happening but never really happens, never really gets us anywhere. And I really didn’t want to write about it.

So I asked Charlotte to give me a few ideas. And she did—some good ones: one about apple orchards; another about the bioengineering of plants; an interesting tale of early settlers to Pennsylvania who went inexplicably missing. (In the latter case, she warned me that she didn’t have all the facts, so hold off until she did.) Though she didn’t pitch it as a story idea per se, she also forewarned me about the demise of certain name-brand social media sites such as Facebook at the hands of other sites, such as Instagram. She quickly noted that those two companies are conjoined.

Good as her ideas were, I rejected them and explained to Charlotte my dilemma: “I am a victim of my own righteous indignation.” Then I meekly suggested that I might write about the MGM publicity assault.

“Nobody cares about the casino,” she said, visibly writhing. “Everyone knows there will or won’t be one, and everyone has their opinion. But nobody can really do anything. Only the ‘important’ people. So everyone just waits and sees what happens.” She shrugged. “Besides, casinos are boring.”

But isn’t there something alluring about them? Kind of like Six Flags for adults?

“A big room of video games? Have you seen what you can do on an iPod?”

I know some of my daughter’s skepticism comes from living with me. But her sense that the casino issue is beyond the reach of average citizens is all her own. She’s grown up in a house where the local TV news is on every morning and every evening, where newspapers circulate freely. She may not yet see for what it is the willingness of the Springfield Republican to blur the lines between its business agenda and its responsibility to serve as a watchdog on behalf of its readers. But she is aware of its effect, dulling the public’s interest in debate, inviting apathy.

Sadly, despite her current opinion, there’s no certainty that my daughter won’t someday acquire such a taste for gambling that it will become a problem. And while I don’t count on the government to protect me and mine from the lure of vices like gambling, I can’t fathom how any politician or civic leader can take pride in foisting off casino development as legitimate public policy.

(Reading this over, Charlotte, I wonder if I should have taken your apple orchard idea.)•

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