October 04, 2014

After being quoted in a recent Globe article about the anti-casino ballot question, I got enough critical feedback from friends who support the passage of the question that I have decided to explain more fully my reasoning on the chances of Question #3 passing.


The comments quoted in the Globe article created a misperception about my analysis. I was not saying that the only energy behind the anti-casino cause was NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) energy. I understand quite well that most of the energy and motivation behind the anti-casino movement is about the social, economic, and even moral ills that accompany casinos. The reason the measure will fail is that there aren't nearly enough voters so motivated for Question 3 to pass at the ballot box. The motive that could have potentially helped pass Question #3 is NIMBY, and there isn't nearly enough of that motivation among the state's voters to pass Question #3 either.


With only one full blown casino actually in the offing, and with that casino being located in Springfield, most of the state's voters are not facing the imminent threat of a casino in their back yard. Because only 11% of the state's voters live in Western Mass, the folks whose backyards are most threatened (right now) don't have the numbers to be a real threat to casinos.


Why aren't more voters against casinos because of the social, economic, and moral threats posed by casinos? Because not enough voters care enough about problems they don't see as threats to themselves or their loved ones to be motivated to vote to repeal legalized gambling. Most voters do not personally fear these potential impacts. In order for them to fear casinos in this manner, they would have to do quite a bit of homework. The problem is, without the fear there is precious little motivation to do the homework, and the homework would entail looking at the arguments and evidence of BOTH sides. There is very little reason to believe that the anti-casino side could persuade more undecided (and previously unmotivated) voters than the pro-casino side. Casino backers have the benefit of being on the side of the status quo, while opponents have to convince a majority of the state's voters to change the status quo to prevent a future threat. Change is hard for a reason.


An undecided voter, most of whom have neither NIMBY nor personal concern motives, would have to come to the conclusion that the social, economic, and moral problems caused by casinos are sufficiently threatening to overcome the economic/jobs arguments of the pro-casino side. It's also not hard to blunt the force of arguments about gambling addition, which is an important component of the anti-casino argument, by pandering to undecided voters' libertarian impulses.


Furthermore, casino opponents also have to overcome the casino backers' democratic process argument. Question #3 asks voters to overturn the will of voters in two respects: The casino law was approved by the elected representatives of the people of the state and by the communities where casinos are going (via local ballot measures).


The only light at the end of the tunnel for anti-casino forces that I can see is the possibility of a low turnout election, which could potentially help the proponents of Question #3. Although, the fact that the two gubernatorial candidates who supported Question #3 in the historically low turnout primary election this year weren't able to muster much support mitigates against the notion that low turnout would be enough to get Question #3 over the hump.



Political consultant Ryan McCollum picked up a missing piece in my analysis that may well reveal my WMass bias. The limited potential for NIMBY motivated gambling opponents was made less limited by the recent approval of a casino project in Everett. While I think the fact that this was so recently settled (the commission voted in Mid-September) makes it harder for anti-casino forces to exploit, and I think pro-casino forces will also try to exploit it, it does impact the force of my argument with regard to the proportion of the electorate with the most pressing potential NIMBY concerns.

Casino Repeal Ballot Question

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