Globe Editorial

Allow debate on gambling

April 10, 2010

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HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo shortchanged the public interest — and the credibility of the legislative process — when he declined to hold formal hearings on his gambling bill.

DeLeo’s plan provides for two licenses for new casinos but would also allow four existing racetracks to install slot machines. It zoomed through one legislative committee this week and may arrive on the House floor as soon as next week.

For DeLeo, the idea may well be a no-brainer: Two of the tracks are in his district. But even if one supports some expansion of gambling — and this page does — there are better and worse ways to go about it. And in a state where even modest development proposals are subject to intensive public scrutiny, surely the question of whether to authorize four slots parlors merits thorough discussion as well.

DeLeo insists that lawmakers have already discussed gambling at length. “Everything has been studied thoroughly,’’ he said last week, “and we’re ready to go.’’ Yet the Legislature’s last major deliberations on the subject involved a quite different plan offered by Governor Patrick, who proposed three resort casinos only. Plus, the debate was just kabuki theater; then-Speaker Sal DiMasi had made it clear no gambling bill would pass under his watch.

A serious discussion is now underway about which form expanded gambling should take. Massachusetts needs a deliberate approach that maximizes the benefits for the state, not a rushed effort to award slot machine licenses to struggling racetracks.

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