Aid for Racing Protected in MA Gambling Bill

An amendment was filed to cut the 9% of revenue racing would get from slots.

by Lynne Snierson

An amendment to eliminate a slot-machine facility that would dedicate 9% of gross revenue to the horse racing industry in Massachusetts as part of expanded gambling legislation was killed in the Senate Oct. 6.

Senators resumed debate on the bill and voted 24-12 to retain the sole facility that will allow up to 1,250 slot machines, and they also turned down a provision that would reduce the number of destination resort casinos in the current bill from three to two.

The Senate is now in recess for the observance of Yom Kippur and will not return until Oct. 11.

The inclusion of a single slots facility in the expanded gambling bill is seen as a compromise between Gov. Deval Patrick and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, who represents the district in which Suffolk Downs is located. DeLeo has long been a vocal advocate for racetracks, and last year insisted there be two slots facilities designated for the tracks in any expanded gambling bill.

Patrick opposed the no-bid slots facilities while favoring full destination resort casinos, and when the two could not reach agreement, the bill died during the 2010 legislative session.

This year, Patrick, DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray, all Democrats, hammered out the provisions of the bill before it was advanced in the legislature. It passed the House on a 132-23 vote in September.

The bill calls for open bid contracts on the slots facility and three resort casinos, with no guarantees for the racetracks, though Suffolk Downs is considered the heavy favorite to win one of the full casino licenses.

On Oct. 6 the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, also defeated an attempt by Republicans to use gambling revenue to reduce the state sales tax from 6.25% to 5% and to use casino revenue to provide tax credits to small businesses. A spokesperson for Murray said 66 additional amendments will be taken up when debate resumes.

The expanded gambling bill is expected to pass the Senate easily, and the governor has pledged to sign it.