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Casinos multiply as states, such as Massachusetts, hunt for jobs, revenue

Ohio, Kansas, and Maryland now have casinos. Florida may consider them. Massachusetts is poised to invite them in. Hard times tip the balance to economic over social issues, analysts say.

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Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has long supported resort-style casinos as a way to generate living-wage jobs for the less-educated population within a state where educated professionals have fared relatively well, says Professor Barrow. Though the governor is not a big proponent of slot machines, Barrow says, he supports this plan because, unlike a previous one, it requires competitive bidding rather than simply setting up slot machines at racetracks.

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The bill moves now to the Massachusetts Senate, where it has support from President Therese Murray.

But opponents argue passionately against expanding gambling in the state.

For state Rep. Ruth Balser, who spoke against the bill before the vote on Wednesday, the prospect of bringing in thousands of slot machines is akin to the state “setting up crack cocaine shops.”

She shared information from an MIT professor’s sociological study of gamblers who use slot machines, noting that this nonsocial form of gambling is “uniquely addictive ... and the majority of the profits [from machine gambling] come from the addicted gamblers.” These gamblers tend to use the machines to escape, to the point where the goal is to keep playing rather than to take winnings home.

The costs of state-sanctioned lotteries, slot machines, and casinos far outweigh the benefits, says Les Bernal, executive director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, a nonprofit group with offices in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

For Mr. Bernal, looking to gambling as a source of jobs and revenue is bound to fail, as did the recent subprime mortgage industry and related investment schemes that led to collapses in the housing market and on Wall Street. “Those people [who issued all these subprime loans] had jobs, but it represents a phony prosperity,” he says. Gambling “is a business that’s based on people losing money.”

In Illinois, the number of people who have put themselves on a “self-exclusion” list to help them stay out of casinos because of gambling addictions – about 8,300 – is more than the number of people employed by the casinos – about 6,900.

The Massachusetts bill includes provisions to study addiction and treatment strategies, and to address needs in communities that end up hosting casinos. It would send 5 percent of the revenue to a public health fund to deal with problem gambling. It’s expected to be debated in the Senate within three weeks.

Material from Associated Press was used in this report.

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