There was a moment, just a moment where I thought a casino was definitely going to come to Fall River. The Senate had released their initial proposal that called for 3 licenses to be issued with one being designated for an Indian casino. The minute I read that I figured that Mayor Flanagan had found the Golden Ticket that guaranteed a casino would come to Fall River. However, the plan the Senate finally put forth did away with the 'Indian provision', deciding that fair competition is better for the Commonwealth. And suddenly the Mayor is once again little Charlie still searching for that free pass into the chocolate factory.
By now I've had a chance to casually encounter 3 of Fall River's city council and ask them what they thought about bringing a casino to Fall River. Almost universally the answer has been jobs, jobs, jobs, revenue, and jobs.
Personally I think believing that a casino is going to solve all of Fall River's problems is a lot like believing that playing the lottery will solve all of yours.
Of course say you're not FOR the casino and all you hear is that you have to read up on Bethlehem, PA and see how it has been a success there! Well to be honest I haven't done much reading on it, but I'll admit I haven't come across anything negative. The problem is that is ONE example. How many casinos have gone in that have not worked out, have harmed more than helped? What special ingredients does it take to make a successful casino and can we do that here? C'mon we're the city that can't figure out parking around a courthouse, or how to sell a surplus building. Can we really pull this off? Do you feel that confident? I don't, and I think if we're going to go down this path we better damn well make sure we get it right.
Truthfully I think we're already starting off on the wrong foot. First, we've basically conceded giving the BioPark to someone else, hopefully Freetown but who knows. Fall River really needs an image makeover and being the hub of life sciences for Massachusetts just seems more prestigious that hosting the Biff Tannen Casino. Of course the argument is that a casino will give us more jobs upfront and more of the jobs that Fall River residents need and will qualify for. Here's the question though, how many jobs? I keep hearing 3,000-5,000, which by the way is a pretty big spread. But when people throw out this number there is never any breakdown! 3,000-5,000 what? How many of these jobs are full time vs. part time? How many will pay over 50k a year, over 35k, etc. etc. You know 5,000 thousand jobs that are marginally over minimum wage just doesn't cut it. No, the people of Fall River need jobs you can support a family on, not the kind that keeps you clawing just to hang on. And if a bunch of those jobs are part time, how much help is that? Not to mention with shops, a mall, spa, etc. there is a chance that this going to cost some jobs in the area. So let's see some breakdowns on all of this and stop believing that we're talking about 5,000 great paying jobs because that is just not going to be the case. There was a letter to the editor a few weeks back that mentioned that a casino in Niagara Falls employed far fewer people despite being bigger and located near a major tourist attraction. The letter, written by Alfred Lima, said that Niagara only saw 1,500 new jobs. Whoa that is a LOT fewer than 3,000-5,000. Now an interesting thing is the Herald News included a little postscript saying the figures we've been told include the people hired during construction. Well that goes against what one councilor told me when they insisted it was 3,000-5,000 permanent jobs AFTER construction. Already our city leaders don't have their facts straight.
Now to build this economic jewel we've got to jump through several hoops. It requires a local ballot question, which will likely have no trouble passing but can't happen until November. It requires a change in the deed of the land to allow a casino there. That could be a lot trickier and I really can't see members of the legislature who may be vying for a casino in their own communities voting for something that could potentially put one in Fall River. It requires the legalization of gambling! Yes, Massachusetts seems to have caught gambling fever but there are major differences between the Senate and House bills. This could potentially deadlock the issue for quite some time. And once that is all settled the state has to choose which locations will get a license. We're only talking about 2 or 3 for the entire state so if there is no 'Indian preference' that puts Fall River up against lots of competition. Now the Wampanoag's have very nicely threatened that if there is no 'Indian preference', they will simply ignore that state license and build the casino anyway and feel they can do this because it will be on Indian land. The problem there is the federal government doesn't allow tribes to do that unless they were recognized officially like 80 years ago. Our casino loving Indians weren't recognized until 2007. Even if at some point the tribe COULD do this, I think they would still have to deal with the commonwealth and by making these sorts of threats I'm not sure they're making friends. Really, if the BioPark were to go to New Bedford instead and you have the Wampanoag's threatening to not give the state a dime (assuming they can get the land in trust) why wouldn't the governor just say the hell with the those new exits on route 24?
So as I've already said before instead of getting both, which is what the Mayor keeps saying, we're going to be lucky if we get one. The casino is no sure thing, however the BioPark though much slower to 'ripen' was a sure thing. So now we have another Indian tribe that wants to open a casino in Fall River and we quickly tell them no. No?! Why no? The Aquinnah Tribe has put forth a proposal to build a casino on 240 acres of land near the Westport and Dartmouth lines however instead of giving it any serious consideration it has been dismissed as not viable. Apparently one issue is that it could take an additional year to develop over the Wampanoag proposal (3 yrs. Vs. 2yrs.) But consider this, with all the obstacles that face any Fall River proposal the Aquinnah site would allow for the immediate development of the BioPark (think construction jobs, roads etc.) while still keeping a poker in the fire for a gaming facility. Now I am not in favor of any casino, mostly because I worry about the negative effects they may have on our city, but if you HAVE to have one why not explore the option that gives you a chance at a casino AND still keep the BioPark?
I think it's this arrogant assumption that scares me the most. There's no need to slow down or consider other options because THIS will just fall into place. They'll be no negative effects no competition from other venues. THIS will be a success. But what if it's not? What if we haven't planned this out well enough? What if we should have considered other options? But people need jobs! But they might not get them, because a casino is no sure bet and the BioPark could go somewhere else…