No welcome mat out for gambling in New England
Boston — The gambling wave is lapping at the shores of New England, and opponents in the affected states are hurrying to build dikes against it. So far, indications are that the battle to hold back the tide of casino, dog track, and other gambling ventures will be at least partially successful.
Three times within the past few months, proposals for expanded gambling -- two involving new race tracks and the third casino gaming -- have been turned back in local referendums.
But promoters of gambling ventures continue to push for new beachheads in two New England states:
* Nevada-based MGM Grand Hotels Inc. has its sights set on casino developments in two Massachusetts towns -- Adams in the Berkshires and Hull, a beachfront community just south of Boston.
* Delaware North Corporation of Buffalo, N.Y., owner of the Boston Bruins professional hockey team among other enterprises, is seeking a parimutuel dog race track in Salem, N.H., on the site of the Rockingham Park horse race track that was destroyed by fire last July. The track produced $4 million a year in revenue for New Hampshire.
Among its various other enterprises, Delaware North owns a dog track at Belmont, N.H.
All three proposals, especially the casinos, are encountering stiff opposition, a good deal of it from local political leaders.
Despite this, foes of the gaming operations are apprehensive that "a fast shuffle" may be dealt, in some cases with the aid of politicians at the state level, forcing onto the towns gambling operations the majority of residents don't want.
Salem voters, who twice previously have said no to dog racing in their community, could find themselves under increased pressure to go along with it this time, since the race track rebuilding would be tied in with a new $18,000 -seat indoor sports arena to house the Bruins. The project hinges not only on local voters assent for dog racing in a March 10 referendum, but also the New Hampshire Legislature's approval of some $125 million in tax credits over a 25 -year period for the developers.
In Massachusetts, the political debate over the casino issue is considerably more heated. Legislation now pending would clear the way to legalize operations similar to those in Atlantic City, N.J., as part of resort hotel complexes.
Casino gambling proponents envision such enterprises producing $25 million in new revenue for the state and some 3,000 jobs.
Foes maintain that, even were this achieved or even exceeded, it would not be enough to compensate for the adverse impact casino operations would have on the community.
"Casinos would only bring more organized crime, murder, rape, robbery, and prostitution," warns Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, who sides with local lawmakers in opposing the legislation.
The proposed Massachusetts law permitting casinos would require only the approval of a majority of the residents in the community involved, rather than including surrounding cities or towns which could be directly or indirectly affected.
The determination of casino operators to establish a beachhead in the region is underscored by the recent downpayment of $50,000 MGM Grand Hotels made on a Hull tract where it hopes to set up its tables and slot machines in a proposed new $350-room hotel.
An affiliate has an option to buy a site in Adams, Mass., at the foot of Mt. Greylock for a similar gambling resort complex.
While opposition to such proposals has been building in both communities as well as in surrounding areas, voters of both towns have approved casinos in the past in nonbinding referendums.
In November 1978, Adams narrowly favored this type of activity, 2,218 to 2, 067. That, however, was part of a Berkshire County referendum in which the idea was rejected countywide by more than 2 to 1.
Hull casino supporters, including town planning board chairman Robert Burns, cite a similar nonbinding vote in May 1978, in which voters there endorsed casinos by 2,063 to 1,170.
Many of those who supported the casino idea were not aware of all the implications, local critics of the current legislation maintain.
"This would destroy the quality of life in our town," David Berman, chairman of the Hull board of selectmen, warned state lawmakers at a recent public hearing on the proposal.
While he and his colleagues are not unanimous on the question, selectmen in Hingham and Cohasset, Hull's closest neighbors, are solidly and vehemently against the proposal. They argue it would have a "devastating impact" on their communities and the entire Boston South Shore.
Prospects for passage of the enabling legislation are uncertain, and much could depend on whether Gov. Edward J. King and legislative leaders throw their quiet, if not active, support behind the measure. The Bay State chief executive thus far has shied away from indicating his position on the controversial issue.
Even if unsuccessful this time, casino promoters in Massachusetts make it clear they will keep trying. They also are interested in setting up shop in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. In the latter two states, however , they have received little or no real encouragement and can count on strong gubernatorial opposition.
New Hampshire Gov. Hugh J. Gallen stated flatly in his inaugural message last month that there is no way he would permit such legalized gambling operations in the Granite State.
Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy is pushing legislation which would forbid the further expansion of legalized gambling of any type in his state without statewide voter approval.
Last November citizens in Newport, R.I., voted against a gambling casino by more than 4 to 1. Further opposition to expanded legalized gambling in the nation's smallest state is indicated by the 5-to-2 margin by which voters in Johnston rejected a proposed horse race track.
Expansion of horse and dog racing in Massachusetts was dealt a setback last November when West Springfield voters said "no" to a new race track in their town.
Legislation to clear the way for casino gambling in Connecticut is pending. Boosters of the measure project a potential state and local revenue yield in excess of $50 million from such an operation.
Principals in the Connecticut Leisure Corporation, which is pushing the proposal, are among those involved in the Adams, Mass., proposal.
Legalized gambling of various types produced a record $325.1 million in revenues for the six New England states during 1980.
Connecticut last year took in $85 million from legalized gambling operations: three jai alai frontons, six off-track betting establishments, and the state-run lottery. State lawmakers are considering proposals to make permanent, or extend for another four years, a moratorium on new gaming establishment which stems from widespread dissatisfaction with the scandal-torn jai alai operations.
Massachusetts, which besides its state lottery has two horse tracks and three dog tracks, took in $100.6 million in gambling revenues in 1980. Some $70 million of that went to the cities and towns.
Rhode Island -- with its lottery, a jai alai fronton, and a dog track -- netted $18.8 million from legalized gambling.
Gambling in New Hampshire, including the state sweepstakes and three race tracks, brought in $13.7 million.
Racing and lotteries produced $1.8 million in Main e and $1.7 million in Vermont.