Thank you for your question.
Before I share some of the thinking that went behind the endorsement, let me first tell you that I’m not a gambler, a fan of gambling, or believe that the gambling industry is a solid economic engine. True economic engines are industries that create unique products and services of lasting value. So given the option of a bio-medical research park, a manufacturer, a hospital or a gambling casino, there’s no contest in my mind.
Also I think our government’s monopoly on the otherwise illegal activity of gaming is a hypocrisy. Last I knew 46 states actively participate in the gambling industry while $50 poker games at the local watering hole are still illegal. I’ve got a problem with that logic too. But that’s for another soap box.
But with that said, gambling is popular entertainment which does and will exist here in Massachusetts. So personally I try to look at this with an open mind.
For starters, according to 2011 tax records there is approximately $149 million dollars of commercial property value in Millbury generating $2.3 Million in tax revenue. The proposed $200 million Rush gaming investment would more than double the entire commercial valuation of the town adding close to $3 million in new annual commercial taxes to the towns intake in one move.
This new source of tax revenue would represent almost 10% of the towns entire 2012 operating budget, an amount that would dramatically change the budget landscape for Millbury residents. Yes, there will be added costs in police etc to support the casino, but the town leaders believe it will also provide a windfall of funds for schools, infrastructure repairs, police and fire departments, while eliminating pressure to further raise tax rates as it recently did in 2012 (Millbury real estate tax recently rates rose 6%). It’s no wonder town manager Mr. Spain is a vocal supporter.
The particular site chosen is now being used for low economic tax value commercial activity and houses a demolition company, scrap yard, and last I knew a few small enterprises including a kitchen counter fabricator; each a good business with good people. But these businesses can be relocated and certainly would not be considered the highest and best use of land sitting at cross roads of the three major highways intersecting central Massachusetts.
One thing the Chamber considers is highest and best use of land and location. We only have so much land to develop and the Chamber looks for projects that create a high density of value and job creation on smaller parcels.
This particular site by its very size and location is unlikely to attract any of the alternative uses I mentioned above and much more likely to attract either more retail or warehousing operations
As an example a 100,000 sq ft warehouse operation using this same plot of land might cost $10-20 million to build and employ 40 people. The proposed 100,000 sq ft slot facility would generate10 times the assessment and employment levels on the same land mass. By targeting projects with high value per acre, we can boost our economy and preserve more free space at the same time.
On the topic of jobs, Rush gaming projects to generate 400 jobs. Being an experienced operator we surmise their estimate is likely accurate. Casino jobs may not match manufacturing or medical in pay scale, but they are not necessarily the low level positions many anti-gaming proponents advance. They include management, accounting, security, catering, grounds and facility maintenance, and of course service staff. When compared with retail and warehousing; the gaming industry provides at least equal if not better pay opportunities.
Besides, Quinsigamond Community College offers an associate’s degree in hospitality management and would become a natural source of new hires.
The entire Blackstone Valley has roughly 2,200 registered businesses with an average employment of less than 5 people. We are an area of small entrepreneurial service businesses. The arrival of 400 new jobs would be impactful. In fact with an employment level of 400 this facility would become one of the top 5 employers in the entire 11 town area, led only by the likes of Agilent, Wyman Gordon and National Grid. Will those jobs go to local residents? No doubt some people will be recruited and relocated to the area, but certainly most of the jobs will be filled by people within the region. According to Rush gaming, local residents are given preference.
As to direct impact on small business, the most likely positive impact will go to service businesses that would support the facilities operations; supplies, maintenance, grounds, plowing, etc. The lost likely negative impact we envision would be on other forms of nightly entertainment, which would mean local restaurants, bars, and movie theaters. From that perspective the group of local businesses that would likely be most impacted would be the ones in the Blackstone Shoppes next door, but some have suggested that they might actually benefit from spillover. We take notice of the success of restaurants in the Shoppes and it tells us there is still plenty of opportunity and demand for entertainment options south of Worcester.
Regarding Rush gaming themselves, since forming as recently as 2009, they have developed and opened SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, voted “Top Work Place” by the Philadelphia Inquirer; Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which was voted “Best Casino” for three years in a row by the readers of Casino Player Magazine; and Rivers Casino in Des Plaines IL, the first LEED Gold certified casino in the world and the top grossing casino in the state. Since 2007, MGE affiliates have deployed more than $1.7 billion in capital and created more than 4,000 jobs.
As to impact on the community at large, that’s a big one. The net is filled with research and studies pro and con on the long term affects of gaming on the social fabric of a community. The overriding theme of most research I’ve read is that it 1-2% of our population falls into the category of problem or pathological gamblers and a casino within driving distance becomes an irresistible temptation. So for this 1-2% it appears a casino is a true detriment to their well being, although they clearly won’t agree with that.
There are many studies published about the overall economic impact due to increased costs of social services resulting from the impact of gambling and I’ve no reason to believe there won’t be an impact in that area as well. While most studies indicate there hasn’t been a direct correlation to increases in crime due to casinos, it does appear their arrival can cause an increase in personal bankruptcies, divorce, alcoholism, etc. in the local area.
Based on our somewhat complex and parochial approach to regional economics, most all the economic benefit of a facility like this is retained by the host town, and the state, while much of the social impact costs will inevitably be shared by surrounding towns such as Sutton, Worcester and Auburn. Not convinced this is the best way to run an airline, but it’s our way.
So perhaps the social impact of a class 2 gaming facility is really a central Mass regional issue more than a local town issue? The state has already spoken on the topic by announcing there will be class two licenses issued, and the Millbury voters will have their say in an upcoming vote. From an overall perspective, we see the town of Millbury gaining from this project.
Being the issue of gambling can be so divisive, as it involves bedrock issues of morality, religion, social issues as well as economic, I am skeptical of much of the pro and con information available. One study that struck me as fairly straight forward is a 2005 study published by the Brooking Institute entitled The Economic Winners and Losers of Legalized Gambling by Melissa Schettini Kearney. You might want to check that out.
Thanks for your post,
Joe Deliso Chairman