August 6, 2018

Central Mass is better off without a casino

At first glance, it may appear Central Massachusetts lost out in the Massachusetts casino race. When it was all said and done, the state's three casino licenses went to Springfield, Greater Boston and (presumably) Taunton, while the slots parlor was built in Plainridge. With gambling already established in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, Central Massachusetts is square in the middle of a robust gaming market without a casino to call our own.

But, really, we don't need one.

The city of Worcester is emerging as a cultural hub, without the need for a nine-figure investment from an out-of-state casino operator. Worcester's influx of restaurants has made it a draw for foodies, and it touts destinations like the EcoTarium, Hanover Theatre and DCU Center. In addition, the city may well be on the verge of drawing the Pawtucket Red Sox away from the Rhode Island market to play Triple-A baseball in the Canal District. Even if the PawSox don't come, the city's profile has risen enough to drive new interest from visitors and developers.

Outside Worcester city limits, Fitchburg, Mendon and Princeton all have attractions bringing in 500,000 visitors annually in Great Wolf Lodge, Southwick's Zoo and Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. Old Sturbridge Village is a top five tourist destination in the region, and Boylston's Tower Hill Botanic Garden is riding a 66-percent attendance increase since 2012.

Sure, a Central Massachusetts resort casino would have brought a surge in visitors and conventions, but a monsterous single-site development can produce a large sucking sound for local restaurants and entertainment venues, plus the inherent seediness and addiction problems coming with casinos. These resorts tend to be places where visitors and eat, sleep and gamble all without seeing sunshine for days on end. The tax collections benefit local government coffers, but the businesses around casinos don't see that money. Take a drive down to Norwich and Ledyard, Conn. – home to New England's oldest and biggest casino resorts – and see if you think those communities reap the rewards of the casinos. Spoiler alert: they don't.

The protections written into the state's gambling law prevent the Springfield and Greater Boston casinos from competing with the likes of the DCU Center and Hanover Theatre, so it is hard to envision much lost attendance. While being in the center of a gaming market without a gaming establishment may seem like we got the short end of the stick, the only thing Central Mass. is really losing out on is people who visit casinos, which we never had to begin with. So let's be grateful we didn't win the casino lottery. We're better off.


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