BOSTON — Religious groups and small business owners that oppose Gov. Deval Patrick's gambling legislation want Massachusetts residents to know a casino could be coming to their backyards.
Instead of lobbying lawmakers who must approve the measure, the coalition calling itself Casino Free Mass unveiled a campaign Monday to hold forums around the state to encourage people to get involved. The first forum is scheduled for next month in New Bedford.
"The more people are informed about this, the more they're considering seriously this is really something that could happen in my backyard, the better the issue becomes for those who want to represent the quality of life we have in Massachusetts," spokeswoman Laura Everett said.
Patrick estimates the state would generate $400 million in annual tax revenue and 20,000 permanent jobs from three resort casinos, one each in three regions: western and central Massachusetts, southeastern Massachusetts and the Boston area.
"The governor has placed all 351 communities out to the highest bidder," said Rich Young, one of the leaders of the new group, at a news conference Monday outside the Statehouse. "The governor's plan is not site specific."
The coalition argues casinos don't constitute economic development because they merely gobble up discretionary spending that currently goes to local restaurants, theaters, and cultural institutions.
The group has no plans for TV or radio ads and acknowledges it will be outspent by the gaming industry. The group is fundraising through its website, casinofreemass.org.
The Rev. Jack Johnson, director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said casinos would create addicted gamblers and disproportionately draw on the poor.
"We as people of faith stand on the moral principle that a proposal to raise revenue by hurting the people who can least afford it is morally reprehensible," Johnson said.
But Michael Quish, whose family owns MSM Exec Limousine in Raynham, called those arguments "complete nonsense." His business is two miles from the Middleborough site where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe hopes to build a casino.
"I travel an hour out to go pick up a limousine job. I'd like to see some more work in our area," said Quish, who attended the Casino Free Mass news conference to show his support for Patrick's plan.
The morality argument doesn't hold water, he said, because many churches raise funds through charitable bingo games.
"They already promote gambling with bingos. I don't understand it. They don't want it now, but they can run it?" he said.
Patrick spokeswoman Cyndi Roy said the bill called for a portion of casino revenue to be spent on public health issues caused by gambling.
"Recognizing that there is a small group of people for which gambling is more than harmless entertainment, the legislation provides significant resources to mitigate any anticipated social costs and calls for the most robust regulation and enforcement in the country," she said.
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle