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Massachusetts Casinos: Worth the Gamble for the Promise of Jobs?

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Massachusetts has moved beyond its Puritan past and the Victorian era. Freed from its repressive history, the Commonwealth is ready to party and preparing for a pioneer influx of casinos.

Currently, the front runner is MGM Casinos, hoping to break ground in Springfield. The promise from casino owners to the Bay State is jobs. Apparently, state government has done an inadequate job of attracting more constructive, innovative businesses. The cost of doing business in Massachusetts has been one reason for companies exiting or refusing to open their doors in the state. The main obstacles are taxes and the cost of living. But what tax breaks will the state grant to casinos for the privilege of proliferating near or around neighborhoods and the highway stretch once called the High Tech Belt?

The rationale for the state's casino gambling initiative, despite protests from lawmakers who never supported it and many Bay State residents who oppose it, is jobs. The overall unemployment rate refuses to shrink despite the recovery of jobs lost during the last two recessions (2002 and 2008). Although Massachusetts is associated with human intellectual capital, higher institutions of learning, and world-class health care and medical teaching facilities, workers' wages are either very low or well above average. Despite the high percentage of college-educated workers, many are underemployed or unemployed because of external circumstances. In Greater Boston and surrounding suburbs are neighborhoods that the under-privileged call home. To the emerging demographic underclass, working for a casino could be appealing regardless of potential risks.

If casinos did step in to (purportedly) relieve unemployment and contribute to the Commonwealth's treasury, what types of jobs would be offered? For starters, these might be: bouncers, security staff, bartenders, croupiers, food servers, banquet managers, and housekeeping or janitorial services. A resort-style casino would probably feature entertainment, so it might hire a bevy of chorus-line dancers who would be the opening and closing act for show biz personalities. Then for back office functions, a casino would need general office clerks, bookkeepers, accountants, and an IT support group.

Enough for casino-style job growth potential. What are the trade-offs or possible consequences? Heavy traffic from vehicles and drug transactions, gambling addiction, an increase in armed robberies, an increase in aggravated assaults, and neighborhoods and businesses under siege from criminal elements. Casino workers themselves might be victimized -- forced to surrender a percentage of wages, pressured into gambling, bullied into taking meals at casino-owned restaurants, having their bank accounts pillaged, and experiencing other unwanted incidents.

As one Boston area clergyman remarked, "In the short term, having a casino may be profitable. In the long term, what happens?"

Will authorities in Massachusetts be able to protect workers from the casinos that employ them?

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