States, casino opponents say 'no dice' to legalized gambling

Casino gambling expansionists are not about to ''make it in Massachusetts'' - as the catchy slogan here puts it - or perhaps anywhere else across the United States.

Advocates of such gaming operations have been trying to sell the idea of legal casino gambling to state legislatures in at least five states - saying it could be a boon to tourism industries and economic development. But casino foes are not buying these arguments and appear to be stiffening their opposition.

But the battle is far from over. Thomas Laverne, executive director of the coalition fighting to keep casino gambling out of New York State, says casino foes are no less apprehensive, despite some setbacks for casino advocates.

New York is one of the states where lawmakers have considered proposals to permit gambling centers. In addition, initiative petition drives to approve casino gambling are being shaped in two other states. None of the measures, however, has made any real headway; several have been rejected outright or sidetracked.

Perhaps even more encouraging to anticasino activists are two recently published reports.

The first, by a special panel appointed by former New Hampshire Gov. Hugh J. Gallen to study the possibilities of various types of legalized gambling, advised against such activities in the Granite State.

Then, in mid-April came a 350-page study on casino gambling and its potential for Massachusetts. Although the report, by the state's legislative research bureau, shied away from either favoring or condemning casinos in the commonwealth, it suggests such activities could have an adverse impact on the state.

''It would be folly to assume even the best-written control statute can be a fail-safe mechanism, or that even the best-devised (casino) regulatory operation will not be subject to human errors or weaknesses in its implementation,'' it warns.

While obviously pleased with the Massachusetts and New Hampshire studies, groups dedicated to containing casinos to Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J. caution against overconfidence. ''The promoters of casinos have more funds than those of us fighting them,'' Mr. Laverne asserts.

In New York, several proposals for a state constitutional amendment that would clear the way for casinos in certain tourist areas (such as the Catskills, Long Island, and Niagara Falls) are pending in legislative committee.

A similar amendment gained lawmaker approval in 1980, but opposition efforts - spearheaded by Laverne's group, No Dice, I Love New York Inc. - succeeded in thwarting the pro-casino move. The amendment, which needed to be approved by two concurrent New York legislatures, never made it through the second round.

Casino critics say that the experience of Atlantic City - which has had legalized casino gambling for five years - is ''one of the best arguments against allowing casinos to spread to other places.'' They say casino gambling there hasn't stimulated development for other segments of the city's economy, and has contributed to the crime rate.

The researchers of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts studies visited the New Jersey resort community and concluded that the disadvantages of such gaming activities outweigh whatever benefits there might be from increased tourism.

The Bay State report suggests that while Massachusetts might be able to support four or five medium-sized casinos, netting the commonwealth perhaps up to $100 million, there would be a heavy price to pay in increased crime.

Massachusetts Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti also warns of ''the potential infiltration of such enterprises by organized crime'' and ''the potential for pressure and possible corruption of law enforcement officials.'' Furthermore, newly elected Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has said he will veto any legalization measure that reaches his desk.

Boosters of legalization, like Nancy Burns of Hull, Mass., one of the communities where local support of casino gambling has been strongest, remain optimistic that it is only a matter of time before casinos are allowed in some resort areas. Legislation to permit slot machines, in specified areas, has been introduced in several states, including Maine and Pennsylvania.

Casino proponents in Texas are seeking legalization in the El Paso and San Antonio areas. Meanwhile, moves are afoot in Colorado and Florida to remove statutory or constitutional barriers to this type of gambling. Voter signature drives, directed at the 1984 ballot, are expected in both states.

The Florida petition drive, which would require some 300,000 signatures, is similar to a 1978 effort that reached the ballot, only to be rejected nearly 2 to 1.

Jay Kashuk, president of Floridians for State Controlled Casinos, feels the opposition to casino gambling in Florida now ''is a lot thinner'' in the wake of the recession, which has hit the state's tourist centers.

In Colorado, Rocky Mountain Resort and Recreations Inc., made up of several Pueblo businessmen, is charting a petition drive similar to one that fell short last year. That drive sought a casino complex just outside Pueblo. Gov. Richard Lamm vehemently opposes casinos in his state.

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