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Mass. will cash in on casinos, profs. say

The seesaw debate over Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed plan to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts entered the world of academia yesterday as professors specializing in the issue discussed its potential benefits at Boston College.

University of North Dakota professors Kathryn Rand and Steven Light said most Indian casinos are located in towns with populations of fewer than 10,000 people and generate barely enough revenue to break even.

Though many “see gambling as a normal vice,” native tribes consider it a means of survival, Light said.

Rand said casino regulations in Massachusetts would focus “on job creation, public services and infrastructure,” key elements Indian reservations often lack.

Duke University economics professor Charles Clotfelter said another former of gambling – the lottery – has played an important role in U.S. history, even funding the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He said profits from casinos should be put toward public education and other social causes in the same way.

Johns Hopkins University professor Michael Nelson said casinos do not facilitate gambling problems as much as the lottery because states have incentive to encourage people — even those who can afford it — to play.

“When states allow private actors to engage in activity, that’s one thing,” Nelson said. “And then the state encourages [people to gamble].”

Nelson said state-sponsored casino gambling would eliminate organized crime that typically comes without state oversight.

Not all speakers cast their support behind the project, though.

“Do we want to encourage [the belief that] all it takes is dumb luck, or [do we want to encourage] hard work?” said BC American politics professor Shep Melnick.

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