Editorial: Betting on trouble

As a federal judge lectured yet another Massachusetts legislative leader for official corruption and sentenced him to multiple years in jail, the remaining powers that be on Beacon Hill were busy pitching a scheme that was devised behind closed doors to bring Las Vegas-style casinos to the Bay State.

Somehow, it’s impossible to think about the move to legalize casino gambling without thinking of Sal DiMasi as well.

The former House Speaker is looking at eight years in federal prison for pocketing $65,000 in a kickback scheme involving $17.5 million in state contracts to a software firm. His two direct predecessors, former House speakers Tom Finneran and Charles Flaherty, also are convicted felons.

Ethics hasn’t been the strong suit in the Massachusetts Legislature. So what makes anyone on Beacon Hill think we can invite the professional gambling industry into Massachusetts and the whole operation will be clean as a whistle? And solve our money problems to boot?

Experience in other states shows that legalized casinos don’t generate revenues to the extent that proponents claim. They drain the lifeblood from existing local economies and small businesses such as restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses, cut into existing state lottery revenues, create new opportunities for problem gambling, and create new, unexpected costs to taxpayers.

The kind of casino control commissions that regulate casinos and their activities are prone to insider politics, patronage, political interference and corruption — just like the Massachusetts Legislature.

And because they are usually paid for with casino revenues, they often become unwitting boosters of the industry they are supposed to keep honest.

States that legalize casinos invite everything from official profiteering to outright crime. Yet we have Beacon Hill’s Big Three — Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Terry Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo telling us they can pass a bill legalizing casino gambling (they cut a deal on the bill behind closed doors) without the kind of insider deals, favoritism, and special-interest giveaways that come with the territory.

That’s extremely hard to believe, given Beacon Hill’s track record. We can’t even award software contracts without a kickback scheme; now we’re going to invite an industry that is known to invite public corruption and organized crime to set up shop. We’re just asking for trouble.

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