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Between the Lines: Unmitigated Gall

The state favors MGM over impacted communities.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The hacks have spoken. Northampton will get no casino mitigation money, and neither will Hampden—no chance for appeal.

I am hardly surprised by this recent decision by the state Gaming Commission. Now that we’re down to the final stages of its selection of the lucky winners—the megacorporations that will enjoy a state-protected monopoly to drain billions from our economy—we see that promises by Gov. Deval Patrick and his gaming commissioner to demand adequate mitigation for the social and economic impact of the resort-style casinos were entirely empty. Gaming Commissioner Steve Crosby and his fellow commissioners—a collection of career trough-feeders—will continue to grease the skids for the casino industry with pious platitudes about protecting the public, but when it actually comes to making a company like MGM pay for adequate mitigation, impacted communities and the small businesses in them can go pound sand.

The arguments the gaming commissioners offered for their decision in Northampton last week were laughable (See “A No-Go for Noho,” page 7). So were the paltry annual amounts those municipalities seeking “surrounding communities” status stood to receive—$125,000 in Northampton’s case. The main reasons the gaming commission opted to withhold even token mitigation funds: Northampton’s consultant’s figures weren’t as convincing as MGM’s, commissioners said, and Noho, with its array of independently owned and operated retail stores, restaurants and nightclubs, attracts a “different” clientele that an MGM casino will.

Consultants on both sides may be tailoring their evidence, but you don’t have to be an MBA to follow the math: if MGM didn’t plan to take at least enough business away from downtown Northampton to result in a $125,000 loss in annual taxes, it wouldn’t be planning to spend more than $1 billion to secure a license and build an $800 million resort complex. MGM needs to suck huge amounts of discretionary money from the region. Rather than dealing honestly with the likely economic impact of that—the sort of impact that is evidenced in casino towns all around the country—Crosby and his team have chosen the narrowest possible definition of surrounding communities in the case of MGM Springfield. All but one of seven communities to score a bit of MGM’s chump change share a border with Springfield. Holyoke struck its own deal with the casino, leaving Hampden the only Springfield neighbor without relief.

In the end, the municipalities that don’t receive mitigation money will likely struggle to maintain services in the face of declining revenue and rising social problems caused by the casinos.

In that regard, I am less worried about Northampton than about other communities in the region, some even farther from downtown Springfield than 18 miles. Northampton will remain strong, I suspect, thanks to the work of small businesses owners in the city and the support of their patrons. Places without Northampton’s talent pool and brand identity won’t fare as well. The mitigation money should be spread more widely, more generously.

Or, if small businesses around the state will wake up and see what a load of crap they’ve been sold by Patrick, state Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo and, of course, the Machiavellian state senator from Amherst, Stan Rosenberg, there is still a chance to repeal the casino deal before it’s too late. Anyone sitting on that fence should look at last week’s decision by the gaming commission for a glimpse at the future.•

 

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