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State Senate reveals more gambling bill details

Public hearing set Tuesday on 3-casino plan

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / June 4, 2010

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The state Senate yesterday unveiled more details of its proposed gambling legislation, setting the stage for a charged public hearing just days before Senate President Therese Murray departs for a weeklong trip to Ireland.

A summary of the bill released by Senate leaders yesterday, as state lawmakers weigh expanding gambling in the Bay State, calls for three casinos in three regions of the state — Eastern, Southeastern, and Western Massachusetts — but no slot machines at two horse tracks and two former dog tracks.

Two casino licenses would be sold through a competitive bid, and the third would be designated for a Native American tribe. Minimum prices for the licenses and minimum investments for each casino have not been determined.

Casino developers would have to pay host communities an “impact fee’’ and have their plans approved by local referendum. Their proposals, according to the draft, would be judged according to “their fiscal soundness and benefit to the Commonwealth.’’

The industry would be regulated by an agency modeled on Nevada’s system. A gaming commission would set rules for the casinos and decide licensing matters, while a control board, with a dedicated State Police unit, would administer the rules and monitor the industry.

The Senate has not determined which state programs, if any, would benefit from casino revenue but the draft legislation established four priorities: funding the regulation of the industry; paying for costs borne by the host communities, including compulsive gambling; offsetting losses in Lottery revenue for cities and towns; and replenishing the state’s rainy day fund.

Senators were sharply divided on the bill during a closed-door caucus yesterday, said Steven C. Panagiotakos, chairman of the Senate and Ways Means Committee, which will hold a public hearing on the measure Tuesday, ahead of a full Senate debate.

“I think people are anxious to have the debate and see where the votes lie,’’ he said. “It’s really divided, and the committee will be divided in putting the bill out.’’

He said the Senate is split among those who will vote for casinos only if the racetracks in their districts get slot machines, those who would not support a casino bill that includes slots at the tracks, and those who oppose any expansion of gambling.

Asked if the bill might fail when it surfaces for a vote — likely at the end of the month — Panagiotakos said, “Yes, that’s always a chance. I don’t see it in serious jeopardy, but there’s an uncertainty there.’’

The Senate bill, if it does pass, will need to be reconciled with the version passed by the House in April, which calls for two casinos in unspecified locations and up to 750 slot machines at each track. Governor Deval Patrick has said he prefers a bill that includes casinos but not slots at the tracks, which he argues do not create new jobs.

Murray, meanwhile, announced yesterday she will be in Ireland June 11-18 for what her office is calling a “short economic development trip’’ aimed at encouraging investment in the state. She will be accompanied by two aides and will pay for the trip with private and campaign funds, said David Falcone, her spokesman.

The trip will take her away from the State House in the midst of a busy legislative season. Lawmakers are scrambling to complete a host of major bills — including those to ban texting behind the wheel, regulate elderly drivers, and ease health insurance costs — as well as the state budget, which needs to be finalized by June 30.

Asked about the timing of her trip, Falcone pointed to a list of 13 bills that have been passed by the Senate but not yet acted on by the House.

Murray’s itinerary includes delivering the keynote address at the European Connected Health Leadership Summit in Belfast, a “dinner meeting on economic revitalization’’ with elected officials and business owners in Derry, a meeting with the lord mayor of Belfast, and a dinner with former Boston police commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole, now a top Irish police official.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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