By Lynne Snierson
On the heels of a new poll that revealed 56% of Massachusetts residents favor the expansion of gambling, state senators on Sept. 26 opened debate on a bill that has already passed the House by an overwhelming margin.
Despite objections raised by a small group of the legislators, the measure is expected to pass easily and then head to the desk of Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature.
But while the House passed the bill 123-32 two weeks ago after only one day of debate, the senior legislative body will take more time to discuss it. Deliberations will continue Sept. 27 and then the senators will recess for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sept. 28, and not return to the floor until Monday, Oct. 3.
Any real action on the bill is not expected until the Senate is back in session. On Sept. 26, critics held a noon news conference at the statehouse in what is considered a last attempt to derail the measure, which even they concede has a high probability of becoming law. In the summer of 2010, a similar bill was passed by the Senate 25-15, although there are now freshman senators who won election last November.
The critics raised objections that the proposed three destination resort casinos and one slots facility will increase crime, encourage addiction, devalue property, cannibalize local businesses, and breed corruption.
Sen. Barry Finegold (D), who represents the district abutting the New Hampshire border town where Rockingham Park is located, expressed concern that bringing casinos to Massachusetts will spur the neighboring state to expand gaming as well.
Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas has announced plans to develop a $450 million casino at Rockingham if New Hampshire passes an expanded gambling bill. Proponents of the measure cite the creation of an estimated 16,000 jobs in Massachusetts and hundreds of million of dollars in tax revenue and licensing fees.
A survey released by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Center for Policy on Sept. 25 indicated that 56% of residents support the development of the casinos and the slots parlor.
Several of the senators have proposed an amendment to strip the bill of the slots facility, and that is one of 182 amendments to be taken up when the Senate continues debate. Suffolk Downs remains the frontrunner to win the resort casino facility for the designated Boston region if the bill passes. Suffolk and Caesar’s Entertainment have a partnership in place to develop a world class facility on the racetrack grounds.