MA Senate Passes Expanded Gaming Bill

Bill authorizes three destination resort casinos and one slots facility.

By Lynne Snierson

Massachusetts is on the fast track to expand gambling after the State Senate passed a bill on October 13 authorizing three destination resort casinos and one slots facility, which would allocate 9% of its revenue to the state’s horse racing industry.

With the final result never in doubt, Senators voted 24-14 for passage late in the afternoon, and the House in September passed its version of the bill 123-32. Now a joint House-Senate committee is charged with ironing out the differences between the two bills but no roadblocks or stalemates are expected. The final version should soon be on the desk of Governor Deval Patrick, who supports the bill fully.

Suffolk Downs, the sole surviving Thoroughbred track in New England, is widely considered to be the odds-on favorite to win one of the three resort casinos that must be competitively bid and has already established a strategic alliance with Caesar’s Entertainment to develop a state-of-the-art facility on the racetrack grounds. Last year, Suffolk purchased the shuttered Wonderland Greyhound Park nearby to add its property to the acreage on which a full destination resort casino could be built.

Said Suffolk Chief Executive Officer Chip Tuttle, "If there is a final decision to allow resort casinos, we are confident that Suffolk Downs will present a plan for a world-class development that will create thousands of new jobs, help tourism in the area, enhance local infrastructure and boost local businesses while preserving our 76-year legacy as the area's premier Thoroughbred race track."

Under the bill’s terms, Massachusetts would be divided into three geographical regions and Boston is one of them. Suffolk, located in East Boston, has the backing of longtime Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The single slots parlor license is not automatically guaranteed to an existing racetrack and must also be awarded through the open bid process.

Each of the three casino licenses will carry a cost of $85 million and the slots license is priced at $50 million. One of the three casino licenses must be awarded to a federally recognized Native American tribe indigenous to Massachusetts.

During five days of debate spread over three weeks, the Senate approved 100 amendments to the House bill and killed another 100. One of the amendments passed allows free alcohol to be served, both in the expanded gambling facilities and in bars and restaurants across the state, and Happy Hours to be reinstated. Both were banned in 1984.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, who represents the district where Suffolk is located and is the son of a longtime worker at the track, praised passage of the bill as a jobs creator and revenue producer.