Critics Worry About Gambling Consequences in New England

NEW ENGLAND states have not escaped the gambling craze sweeping across the country.

States are introducing more sophisticated games, and Indian tribes are lobbying to build casinos in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. But critics are worried about crime, compulsive gambling, and unrealistic expectations about gambling's economic benefits. (Gambling vote in Missouri, Page 20.)

Massachusetts' lottery has the highest revenue per capita of any state, at $78 in 1991, said Steven Gold, director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government's Center for the Study of the States in New York and a panelist at a forum on Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy Library here. And the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard, Conn., run by the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe, is the country's most successful casino.

Meanwhile, Bay State Gov. William Weld (R) hopes to introduce video slot machines at racetracks and three floating casinos. The proposals could raise $125 million in state revenues in one year.

But the Rev. Diane Kessler, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, believes the state has gone too far. State-sponsored gambling brings added law-enforcement costs and disproportionately hurts the poor, working class, teens, and families, she said. ``We are taking images of `play' and `fun' ... and distorting them in ways which are confusing everyone...,'' with plans for a ``total destination for the entire family.''

State Secretary of Administration and Finance Mark Robinson countered that Massachusetts wouldn't become ``a mecca for gaming interests.'' But, he said, the state can't sit idly by while other states lure tourists away. It must negotiate with the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, who want to build a casino and theme park in New Bedford. ``As much as everyone involved might like to take the moral high ground on this issue, we cannot ignore the obligations of federal law with respect to Indian rights,'' Mr. Robinson said.

Nationally, 37 states have lotteries and 10 have non-Indian-run casinos. And new gambling forms, like video poker, are also appearing. But, as more states get in on the mania, there's less to gain, Mr. Gold noted. ``So we're going to cut the pie in smaller slices.''

S. Timothy Waputo, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association and a forum panelist, said Indian casinos bring jobs and revenues to tribes. In 21 states, 78 tribes have entered gaming compacts with governors, he said. At Foxwoods, 9,000 direct jobs and 8,000 spinoff jobs were created. ``[Indian gaming] is government gaming. It is separate, and it is different from commercial gaming.''

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