Gambling legislation in Massachusetts (update)

Legislative breakthrough in a long political wrangle

The controversial and long-running legislative argument about what land gambling expansion should take place in the state of Massachusetts (see previous InfoPowa reports) moved a step closer to resolution on Saturday when the Massachusetts Legislature gave initial approval to a casino bill that would create the most sweeping expansion of gambling in the state in four decades.

Gov. Deval Patrick, however, threatened to veto the bill, which could lead to the availability of three land casinos and two slot machine parlours, to be bid on by the state's four racetrack owners. Patrick, a proponent of the new casinos, is opposed to the slot machine parlours and said he would send the bill back to lawmakers, recommending changes.

Dickering over the issue, the governor said that he could agree to just one slot parlour licence, but it has to be open to all bidders and not just the racetrack owners.

State politicians voted 25-15 in the Senate and 115-36 in the House - the first hurdles toward progressing the legislation to the governor for signature, reports the Boston Globe newspaper.

The initiative will see the state coffers benefiting by $85 million from each of the casino licenses and $20 million to $25 million from the licenses for the racetrack slot parlours, also known as racinos. Each of the two racinos would be allowed to have between 1,000 and 1,250 slot machines, depending on their location.

Politicians anticipate up to $400 million in new annual revenues will also accrue.

Casino supporters hope that the expanded gambling opportunities in Massachusetts will stop the outflow of gambling dollars caused by residents travelling to nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island to bet.

The sessions showed again the tensions that exist between the governor and the House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, who supports racetrack slots and has two major tracks in his constituency.

The Globe reports that DeLeo chided the governor on his comments that he would exercise his right of veto, noting: "I find it hard to believe that Governor Patrick will veto 15,000 jobs and the prospect of immediate local aid funds for cities and towns."

Patrick said Saturday his views have not changed. "I want a bill that has licenses that are genuinely competitive," he said. "The whole idea of doing slot parlours is not where I want to be."

The newspaper notes that the bill was written in such a way that the governor cannot issue a line-item veto targeting the two racetrack slot parlours. It lets the governor enter into a casino agreement with one of the state's two federally recognised tribes, and allows one casino in each of three geographic locations in the state, with revenues set aside to help problem gamblers.

The House originally passed a bill that called for two casinos and 750 slot machines at each of the four tracks. The original Senate bill called for three casinos but no racetrack slots.

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