Senate to propose licensing 3 casinos

But says no to slot machines at state’s racetracks

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / June 3, 2010

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State Senate leaders, offering the first glimpse of their plan for expanded gambling in Massachusetts, said yesterday that they will propose licensing three casinos in three regions of the Commonwealth, but no slot machines at the state’s four racetracks, setting up a clash with their House counterparts.

The outline of the Senate plan closely resembles legislation proposed by Governor Deval Patrick in 2007, which also called for three casinos in three areas of the state and no slots at the tracks.

But it is sure to set up a fight with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who ushered a bill through the House earlier this year that calls for two casinos and up to 750 slots at each track.

Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who helped draft the Senate bill, said his chamber’s plan calls for three full-scale casinos and no slots at the tracks because “all the data, all the studies, and all experience show that, if you want to maximize jobs and revenue, you go to resort-style casinos.’’

“You can glut the market if you go too far and compromise the viability of the industry you’re trying to build,’’ he said. “You add very few jobs when you put slots at tracks.’’

Unlike the House bill, the Senate plan would also designate one casino for an Indian tribe, as the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is seeking to build a massive gambling complex in downtown Fall River.

The Senate plan, Rosenberg said, will be discussed at a caucus today and be reviewed at a public hearing Tuesday. No date has been set for a debate on the measure, he said.

Seth Gitell, a DeLeo spokesman, released a brief statement yesterday saying the speaker prefers the House bill to the one outlined by the Senate yesterday. A track worker’s son whose district includes two racetracks, DeLeo has been fighting for years to help the struggling tracks by giving them the right to install slot machines.

“Speaker DeLeo remains committed to the gaming and jobs legislation passed overwhelmingly by the House in April,’’ Gitell said. “This legislation, which would create two resort casinos and allow for slots at racing facilities, will foster economic development, help keep our citizens employed and provide an immediate source of local aid.’’

A spokeswoman for Patrick, Kim Haberlin, released a statement reiterating his support for resort-style casinos.

“The governor has been consistently clear that, if we expand gaming in the Commonwealth, we need to focus on a plan that has the greatest long-term economic development and job creation opportunities,’’ she said. “For him that means a limited number of destination resort casinos, geographically dispersed.’’

Rosenberg said many details of the Senate plan have yet to be worked out, including the rate at which the casinos would be taxed, the fees the state would charge for casino licenses, and whether the expected revenue would be dedicated to specific programs. Differences between the House and Senate versions will ultimately need to be reconciled before the end of the legislative session July 31.

The debate over slot machines will probably intensify during what is already shaping up to be contentious summertime negotiations between DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray.

Rosenberg said he was hopeful, however, that the Legislature will deliver a casino bill to Patrick’s desk in the time remaining this session.

In an interview yesterday, before release of the Senate bill, DeLeo said he was also optimistic about the passage of a casino bill “as long as we all go in with the idea that we’re going to get it done, which is my intention.’’

He added, “Slots are important to me, and that’s going to be an important part of negotiations down the road.’’

Opponents of expanded gambling are also ramping up.

Yesterday, the group United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, which had been relatively quiet since passage of the House gambling bill in April, announced that it had hired a public relations firm, MS&L, to increase its profile and was making available for interviews former attorney general Scott Harshbarger and former governor Michael S. Dukakis, two prominent opponents of expanded gambling.

“So confident are the monied special interests that they are already setting up shop for casinos in our cities and towns and securing land and financing for their projects,’’ Kathleen Conley Norbut, the group’s president, said in a statement. “That sense of inevitability is what they are counting on. But we all know our hero stories, and Goliath hasn’t made it to the slots parlor just yet.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at

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