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In Good Conscience

AG candidate Maura Healey thinks Massachusetts should ditch its casino law.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Like a number of political figures in the state, Maura Healey acknowledges that she wouldn’t want to see a casino built in her neighborhood in Charlestown.

But unlike most of her fellow candidates for state office, she opposes a casino’s being built anywhere in Massachusetts.

Last week, Healey, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, announced via an op-ed on the political website BlueMassGroup that she supports repealing the 2011 law that legalized casinos in the commonwealth. “I oppose casinos because I believe they hurt people and they hurt communities, and they don’t yield what they purport to promise in terms of economic gains, in terms of families and communities,” she said in an interview with the Advocate.

“We’ve seen the impact on communities that have welcomed in casinos. We’ve seen the lost jobs, the lost homes, the lost livelihoods, bankruptcies, foreclosures, addictions, crime,” Healey said. “As somebody who has stood up against these issues, I think it’s important to stand up to them here.”

 

Healey comes to the AG’s race after six years working in that office, including time as head of its Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau. “I spent many years in the Attorney General’s Office fighting for people who were disempowered, who were vulnerable, who could be taken advantage of. … I fought off predatory lenders, unfair debt collection, foreclosures,” she said. And those are the very sorts of problems (along with gambling addiction and public safety woes) that experience in other states shows increase with casino development, she said.

“I can’t in good conscience support gambling here in the state as a way out, a way to economic opportunity,” she said. “The casino industry business model is based on profits over people, on taking advantage of those who can least afford it.”

Healey said she’s sympathetic to the argument that casinos would bring much-needed jobs to Massachusetts, particularly in hard-hit cities like Springfield, where voters last year approved a proposed MGM casino. But there are better, more innovative ways to create jobs and boost the economy, like building on existing industries such a technology and healthcare and investing in infrastructure, she said: “Gambling just isn’t the way out.”

As for people who say efforts to overturn the law come too late, Healey said, “I don’t come at this believing that it’s all a done deal. … We’re still at a point where the people can make a decision.”

 

In point of fact, it remains to be seen whether the people of Massachusetts will be able to make that decision. While casino opponents have worked to get a casino-repeal ballot initiative before voters this November, that effort was halted last fall when incumbent Attorney General Martha Coakley—Healey’s former boss and now a candidate for governor—ruled the question unconstitutional (“Do You Want Casinos?” Oct. 8, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com). The repeal backers have appealed that decision; the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court is due to take up the case this spring.

That matter, Healey said, “will be up to the court to decide.”

For her part, she continued, “I wanted to be out front on this issue, because whether gambling comes into the state or not, the attorney general will have a big role. … A core part of your job is to protect consumers [from] predatory practices.” If she’s elected, Healey said, that work would start with putting together a strong state Gaming Division focused on “mak[ing] sure that we are taking actions to protect against predatory lending, loan sharking, unfair debt collection, that we’re fighting gambling addiction and organized crime.”

Healey’s rival for the Democratic nomination for AG, former state senator Warren Tolman, does not support repealing the casino law. In a statement sent by his campaign to the Advocate, Tolman noted that the fate of the proposed ballot question will be determined by the SJC, not the next attorney general.

“But if it is on the ballot I will vote against repeal,” Tolman said. “I support the Legislature’s decision to allow individual towns and cities like Springfield and Plainville to decide if they want a casino in their back yard. The people in these communities want the jobs and economic development that will be created.

“If casinos go forward in Massachusetts, the real issues for the next Attorney General are to enforce casino agreements and to be an advocate for consumers and taxpayers,” Tolman continued. “I will ensure that agreements with host communities and surrounding communities are strictly enforced. I will be the leader on whom Massachusetts residents can depend so that casino operators are adhering to their agreements with regards to traffic mitigation, compulsive gambling, work rules, the impact on local economies, consumer bankruptcy and other issues. Finally, I will continue to be a watchdog on ethics and political corruption.”•

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