Chump Change?

A Weekly Dig blogger -- and then in turn Jon Keller, Dan Kennedy, and Charley at Blue Mass group -- have jumped all over a Boston Globe reference to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe's estimate that its casino "could generate up to $100 million a year in additional state revenue." $100 million? Chump change, these bloggers say. Barely worth collecting. Wouldn't bend over to pick it up off the sidewalk.

Hold up a sec. Sure, the Mashpee tribe's casino COULD generate $100m a year -- if the tribe swings an incredibly savory deal with the state. Or, it COULD generate $200 million a year for the state, as the Aquinnah Wampanoag estimated its planned casino would, back in 2002. Or, the Mashpee COULD pay the state an annual $200m licensing fee, plus taxes worth some $15m a year, as UMass-Dartmouth's Clyde Barrow has proposed. Or it COULD provide between $250m and $500m a year, as one state lawmaker has said.

And that's one casino. Together, casinos COULD generate between $135m and $450m, as a 2002 study prepared for Jane Swift projected. Or, state revenues from three casinos COULD run between a half-billion to a billion dollars a year, as Treasurer Tim Cahill has estimated.

Who the hell knows? My point here is that folks should be wary of making too much of one offhand, loosely-sourced figure on the lowest end -- and might want to think twice about engaging in a debate over how much state revenue makes it "worth" allowing casinos.

After all, if the data looks closer to the high-end estimate of $1 billion a year…. well, that starts to look like real money, doesn’t it? If you want to play the "it could pay for..." game, a billion dollars could just about double the entire Department of Public Health AND Department of Mental Health budgets.

Or, more relevantly, it could add a billion dollars to municipal budgets every year. That's roughly $39 million for Worcester. $21m for Brockton. $27m for Fall River. It's $10m for Fitchburg, a city that spent much of this year debating whether to decertify its library to help close a $730,000 budget deficit. Stoneham -- which was forced this summer to eliminate its entire $750,000 high school athletics program, and subsequently revived it by adopting a massive trash fee -- would get $2.5 million every year.

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