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Gaming Industry Takes Another Hit As Massachusetts Looks For A COVID-19 Scapegoat

James Murphy
by in News on
  • The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has reduced casino capacity to 25% of fire code standards.
  • Massachusetts casinos were already required to close by 9:30 PM and maintain a 40% capacity level per a Gaming Commission mandate.
  • The curfew and capacity limit is purportedly to help control the spread of COVID-19 though there is little evidence of their efficacy.

The United States has done a horrible job responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is true at every level of government but the federal and state responses have been front and center. The arrival of multiple vaccines has brought renewed hope but now the US is doing a horrible job administering them. It looks enviable that the country will fall short of their 20 million vaccinations goal for December–the US is a mere 19 million off the pace with only 1 million given to date.

At the state level, governors and their power hungry political cohorts are more concerned about the appearance that they’re ‘doing something’ than they are in taking legitimate and effective steps to mitigate the pandemic. There really isn’t a state that has distinguished itself with an effective and measured response to the COVID-19 crisis. To the contrary, most states put ‘health theater’ measures over everything else.

California might be the worst state of the bunch–not a huge surprise since boneheaded responses to crises is a Golden State tradition. A frequently heard mantra is that we should all ‘listen to the experts’ in science and medicine. That doesn’t apply to California–recently, for example, they went ahead with a ban on outdoor dining just days after a state judged ruled that a similar order issued by Los Angeles County amounted to “an abuse of the [Health] Department’s emergency powers, [and] is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic.” There are many of reasons that people, businesses and industries are streaming over the California borders heading to Texas, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. Most have to do with this type of arrogant, arbitrary and pointless exercise of government at its most overbearing.


If California and New York are vying for the title of ‘worst response’ to the pandemic the state of Massachusetts is definitely in the running for a ‘wild card’ spot. The story in the Bay State is more of the same complete with a blowhard incompetent governor, in this case Charlie Baker. Baker has been ratcheting up the economic restrictions in the state even as case counts continue to skyrocket and despite a litany of experts suggesting that many of the steps are pointless and ineffective. For example, in November Baker decreed that face masks must be work at all times–including outdoors and in situations with adequate social distancing can be maintained. Here’s what Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School (eg: a legit expert) thought about that:

“Masks are an important prevention tool when we’re close to other people, especially indoors, but there’s really no reason to be wearing a mask when you’re outdoors and you’re not close to anyone.”

“And arbitrary public health rules are a way to break the public’s trust, which is essential to keeping people engaged in public health efforts. I think a mandate like this — that people know is arbitrary — is going to do more to reduce trust than it will to reduce infections.”

As has been the case in many states, the gaming industry is an easy target for restrictions that are particularly burdensome. Massachusetts is far from the only state to force unnecessary restrictions on casinos but they’re one of the worst. In November as case counts started to surge Baker demanded that all ‘non-essential businesses’ including casinos close at 9:30 PM. Of the many downright imbecilic COVID-19 restrictions foisted by governments on citizens the ‘nightly curfew’ might be the least effective and most absurd. Viruses **cannot tell time** and thus when it comes to transmission risk there’s no difference in being in a business at 9 PM than at 10 PM.

Unfortunately, casinos don’t have much recourse other than to go along with the charade. Even in Nevada–where the economy of the state is driven by gaming–casinos have to ‘grin and bear it’ more often than not. In a state like Massachusetts where gaming licenses are limited so as to make them political bargaining chips dissent could be fatal from a business standpoint. For that reason, companies usually issue press releases that they’ll comply out of interest of the public well being or whatever. It’s not like they can say that they don’t want to get strong armed out of a gaming license for having the temerity to question the king…er…the governor’s infinite ‘wisdom’.


Never mind the fact that business curfews (or curfews in general for that matter) don’t really do anything against a microorganism without any time telling ability. Don’t think of bringing up that curfews might actually do more harm than good by undermining one of the mitigating steps that actually *does* work–social distancing. As REASON Magazine observed earlier in our current national crisis business curfews are a bad idea that doesn’t really do anything to slow the spread of coronavirus. This is what they concluded back when California Governor Gavin Newsom tried to close beaches based on what I’m sure was sound deliberative process with input from plenty of highly respected medical and public health experts. Or not…

Business curfews amount mostly to an attempt to “do something,” even if that something flouts science and common sense. Brown and Bullock aren’t alone in that. Gov. Gavin Newsom shuttered beaches in Orange County, California, for instance, after some photos seemed to show the area crawling with sun-drunk beachgoers. That decision contradicts the wealth of infectious disease experts who say that such outdoor spaces are adequately safe—and beneficial to our mental health—if social distancing guidelines are enforced. 

In response to yet another senseless COVID-19 curfew in another part of the country, REASON Magazine made the obvious point that forcing businesses to close early simply compresses the commercial day. This has the effect of forcing more people into a business in a shorter span of time which means more people inside in close quarters. Thus it is not just an ineffective bit of ‘health theater’ but instead has the serious negative externality of undermining social distancing which is something that actually can make a difference in COVID-19 transmission:

Compressing the commercial day will mean more people shopping together in close quarters. The smart play until now among germaphobes has been hitting up the local Rite Aid in the wee small hours. Mayors, county executives, and governors are increasingly foreclosing that option.

But what’s the harm in some pointless and arbitrary restrictions? Isn’t there some value in using them to reinforce the severity of the pandemic as some politicians have argued lately? Harvard’s Julia Marcus came up with a great analogy that I wish I’d thought of first:

“It’s a bit like saying we’re going to ask people to wear condoms when they’re masturbating, because we think it’s going to get them to wear a condom when they’re with another person.”

Spoiler alert: it probably wouldn’t work, not that I’ve had first hand experience with such a mandate. REASON Magazine summed offered up what should be a standard for evaluating a coronavirus response— that it actually work, that it is not applied arbitrarily and that it affords citizens the greatest latitude of freedom while maintaining efficacy. Guess what that means for curfews?:

The coronavirus response should be guided by science and reason, and it should give people the greatest flexibility possible to act in accordance with basic social distancing measures. These curfews do neither.


Baker’s latest decretal actually suggests that he might now realize that curfews have a serious downside. Since social distancing is known to be one of the most effective ways to preventing COVID-19 transmission and curfews have the negative externality of undermining it could it be that Baker will admit a mistake and roll back the pointless if not counterproductive early closing times for ‘nonessential’ businesses?

Not a chance. Autocrats like Baker will *never* admit they were wrong even when they take a subsequent action that essentially confirms that fact. The good news is that Baker has realized the importance of social distancing and the potential negative outcome of curfews. The bad news? He’s going to remediate this problem at the expense of the state’s gaming industry:

Reacting to a new order issued earlier Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Baker, the five-member commission, in an emergency meeting, reduced capacity to 25 percent of existing fire codes in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Prior to the order, casinos were allowed to operate with a capacity calculated by a formula that was about 40 percent.

In the mind of a pompous, high-handed authoritarian there’s simply no way that he is responsible for a negative outcome. He could of taken ownership by saying ‘y’know, I was hoping that these curfews would reduce the spread of the COVID. But astoundingly they didn’t. How about let’s scrap that idea and try something different?’ I know that I’m displaying extreme temerity by even *suggesting* that the decisions of a government overlord might not be divinely inspired. That’s why whenever something like this doesn’t work the response is to conclude that the human chattel of the state didn’t do it hard enough meaning that the screws have to be tightened down even more.

You’ve no doubt heard the quote from someone (but probably not Albert Einstein) that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Repeating an ineffective action over and over is…uh….’ineffective’. It takes another level of self absorbed denial to double down on an ineffective action when evidence is presented that it doesn’t work. To continue to double down on an ineffective action knowing that it comes at a very real cost to actual people in the form of job loss, economic hardship, mental illness, substance abuse and countless other ways is downright diabolical.

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