Massachusetts Begins Expanded Gambling Debate

By Lynne Snierson

Debate on a bill to expand gambling in Massachusetts began on the afternoon of Sept. 14 and despite a coalition of opponents rallying on the Statehouse steps, passage is considered to be very likely.

The bill, which would give a portion of gaming revenue to the state’s horse racing industry, allows for three destination resort casinos to be built in three separate regions, plus allows one slot machine-only facility. All licenses would be competitively bid, so racetracks are not guaranteed to receive one.

Gov. Deval Patrick, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray—all Democrats—back the measure and wide support exists in both chambers of the legislature. Patrick told reporters Sept. 14, “There is a very small proportion of people for whom this is not just harmless entertainment.”

The opponents disagreed. Citing increases in addiction, crime, and a host of other social costs, they asked legislators to vote no. “This is bad public policy. It’s bad economically, it’s bad socially and bad politically,” said Thomas Larkin, president of United to Stop Slots, who was joined by religious leaders, social workers, and community group organizers.

DeLeo maintains that passing the bill will create 15,000 jobs and provide Massachusetts with $300 million in annual tax revenue on gross gambling receipts. His district includes Suffolk Downs, and he’s long been an advocate for helping the racing industry by expanding gambling. The bill would give 9% of the revenue from the slots facility to the racing industry.

Suffolk stands to benefit even more. One of the three regions designated to host a resort casino is Greater Boston, and Suffolk is considered the front runner for the gaming license. The track’s owners have entered into what they term a strategic alliance with Caesar’s Entertainment to develop a world-class facility on Suffolk’s property should they be successful.

Debate on the issue is scheduled to continue and a vote may be taken before the end of the month.

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