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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) Don't worry about casino, our leaders are watching

November 27, 2011

It’s a good thing our public officials have been watching.
Governor Chafee has been watching. House Speaker Gordon Fox has been watching as well. And Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has been on the lookout, too.
I know they have been watching because every time I or some other reporter has asked them about casinos, they always said they were keeping a close eye on what Massachusetts is doing about its casino proposals.
So yes, they were watching all right. And like Boston Red Sox batters last September, they kept their eye on the ball as it zoomed right down the middle of the plate and landed with a muffled thud in the catcher’s mitt.
That was Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick you heard pronouncing “Steeeeerike three! Yerrrrrrrrrrrrr Out!
Now there is nothing left for our “leaders” to do but kick the dirt, curse and skulk back into the dugout. Put a backwards “K” next to each of their names. They struck out looking with the bat on their shoulders. That’s about as ignominious as failure gets; to go down without even swinging. But it is we, the taxpayers and citizens expecting services from the state who are the losers.
While Chafee, Fox and Paiva Weed are busy patting each other and themselves on the back over the pension bill, a four-armed sea monster is reaching out to grab each of them and plunge them and the state into a bottomless ocean of red ink. Massachusetts is moving ahead with its casino plans; three full-sized resorts and a slot parlor. The hundreds of millions of dollars Rhode Island’s budget depends on each year will soon be passing through Beacon Hill instead of Smith Hill.
If you are reading this in Attleboro or Seekonk, in Blackstone or Millville or Bellingham, rejoice! Your state is about to hit the jackpot. Your roads will get repaved, your schools will be improved, and you might even see a decrease in your property taxes. Rhode Island’s loss is going to be your gain.
But don’t think Rhode Island is doing nothing. No, no, perish that thought.
After all, the governor is commissioning a study. That oughta scare the pants off of those Bay State pols — they have a casino law, but hey, we’re going to have a study. And the legislative leaders haven’t been sitting on their hands, either. No, the House and Senate have authorized a referendum vote – ONE YEAR FROM NOW – to let Twin River get casino table games. Whoop-de-freakin’-do.
That should allow enough time for Newport Grand to lock its doors and shut out the lights; the slot machines that are there now will work just as well in New Bedford or Fall River, where they can generate revenue for Massachusetts.
Twin River will probably be able to limp along for a little while longer as a shadow of its former self; we can probably even generate a few pennies of revenue if we allow half of it to be converted to Flea Market space. But don’t you worry; we’re going to have a referendum in 12 months.
For a long time now, radio host and former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci has been predicting that Rhode Island would get into the casino business the moment it was no longer profitable. Well, our moment has come!
We have dithered and we have dawdled. We have hemmed and we have hawed.
We have brushed aside every casino proposal (that’s right, Rhode Island voters themselves own a big piece of the blame for this debacle, too) that wasn’t going to be located on Louisquisset Pike.
Now we are on the outside of the casino looking in through the window like beggars, hoping that our sad faces will move a couple of the high-rollers to flip us a quarter as they walk out the door. It isn’t like we didn’t see this day coming; as I said, our political leaders have been watching.
It took Massachusetts FIVE YEARS of fighting among themselves before it gave the OK for casinos. And all we did all that time was watch.
Would it be too much to ask for our “leaders” to get off their backsides now? It is too late to save us, but we could forestall the inevitable a little while longer, to maybe give us some time to think about how we are going to recoup the quarter billion dollars (yes, $250,000,000) a year that we have been getting from Twin River alone.
If the first thing the General Assembly does when it returns in January is move the referendum up from November, 2012, to April, when we are going to have a presidential primary anyway, we could at least get the wheels moving. If legislators can manage to walk and chew gum at the same time, they could write the necessary rules and get whatever gambling commission they want in place by June 30, that could be the effective date for the table games to start at Twin River. We should allow that place to bring us a little bit of money before it is forced out of business, cracked like a walnut by competition from Massachusetts on one side (two sides, actually) and Connecticut on the other.

Blackest of Fridays
Has all this Black Friday nonsense gone too far yet?
It has to be among the most obnoxious and over-the-top examples of Americans’ avarice, selfishness, and flagrant disregard for anyone but ourselves. Pegged to a day that is supposed to be about sharing and giving thanks for what we have, it brings out the absolute worst in people who want more, want it now, want it cheap and don’t care who they have to step on (sometimes literally) to get it.
Stop the madness!
First of all, try to think of somebody else for once. You may think it is cute, if you have the Friday after Thanksgiving off from work, to go out at 2 o’clock in the morning to stand outside some superstore or another to start Christmas shopping. Just because you have the day off, why do you insist on dragging all the people who work at these stores for something close to minimum wage away from their families, out of their beds in the middle of the night just so you can be the first to buy a big-screen TV?
There are people who legitimately have to work on holidays because what they do is necessary. Cops and firefighters have to work to keep you safe. Doctors and nurses in hospitals have to be on the job because people are going to need them. People in the news business have to work because the world doesn’t stop and you need to be informed. Bus drivers and airline pilots and crew have to work so other people can travel to be with their families.
The person who is going to sell you a Guitar Hero game doesn’t. He or she could just as easily start work at 8 or 9 a.m. that Friday and sell you that game.
Yes, yes, I know, we all want discounts. But any store that makes employees and shoppers show up in the middle of the night to get them should be required to pay their employees double time for doing so.
Toys ‘R’ Us is the grossest offender here, inducing shoppers and forcing employees to begin the pointless extravaganza of acquisition at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Shame on them! To Rhode Island’s credit, state law does not allow most retail operations to open on Thanksgiving or Christmas days, but that should be extended out until at least 7 a.m. the following day.
I’m not a “there oughta be a law,” type of guy, but something needs to be done and there doesn’t seem to be any point in trying to talk sense to people who would pepper spray fellow shoppers to be the first to get at an Xbox.
When someone does that, or when two women shiv each other at Providence Place on so-called Black Friday, it makes work not only for the retail clerks, and the janitor who has to clean up, but also the cops and the firemen, and the doctors and the nurses and even the news reporters and editors.
And a crazy part of this — before I start hearing about how I am creating a “bad business climate” in Rhode Island or “killing jobs” — is that the retail industry’s own studies show that all the Black Friday hullabaloo doesn’t prompt people to spend more overall during the holiday season, they just have to lose five or six hours sleep to spend exactly as much as they were going to anyway.
Doesn’t it irk you just a little bit that Corporate America can make you dance like their little puppet? It yanks one string and you leap out of bed at 3 in the morning, it tugs on another one and your hand goes to your wallet and pulls out a credit card.
Knock it off! Act like a human being for heaven’s sake, not a greed-possessed zombie with a shopping cart, stripped of free will and void of common sense.

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