The Massachusetts Senate voted 26-9 Oct. 6 to pass a bill allowing 2,000 slots machines at each of the state's four pari-mutuel tracks, including its major Thoroughbred facility, Suffolk Downs.
The passage marks the first time a similar gaming bill has succeeded in either body.
"This was a pretty good vote," said Jeff Hooper, the New England Horsemen's Benevolent Protection Association's legislative committee chairman. "And another senator, who could not attend, had a letter of his support read during testimony so this was really a 27-9 vote."
Hooper said Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat, was reluctant to address the issue, but still he hopes the full House would take up consideration after a joint House/Senate Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technology hearing Oct. 18.
Meanwhile, the state's governor again stated his pledge to veto any expanded gaming legislation. Gov. Mitt Romney, widely considered to be seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, has been on record in the past in support of the expansion of gambling in the state but has recently changed positions.
The Boston Globe
reported the switch was due to pressure from anti-gambling activists in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"The governor has stuck to his veto plan," said Hooper. "But what's ironic is that Iowa was the first to put slots at its tracks, and, it also has riverboats. This vote in the Senate is veto-proof and I've seen considerable support from the House though I don't know just how much."
Hooper said Romney's office has not responded to invitations from both from the NEHBPA and its national counterpart, the NHBPA, to sit down and meet. Hooper said the horse industry contributes more than $300 million to the Massachusetts economy and provides more than 3,000 jobs.
"The National HBPA, its affiliates, members, and their employees are committed to the ongoing promotion and enhancement of the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry," said president John O. Roark in a Sept. 30 letter. "Part of this commitment is our united pursuit of the legalization of alternative gaming at racetracks in states where they do not exist."
According to the most recent economic impact study of the American Horse Council Foundation, the horse industry generates $102 billion nationwide, of which over $26 billion comes from the racing and breeding segments.
Annually, racing generates 383,000 jobs with 100,000 of those jobs directly tied to the NHBPA'a 40,000 members.