By Lynne Snierson
The State of Massachusetts took a major step toward expanding gambling on the night of Sept. 14 after the House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize three destination resort casinos and one slot machine facility by an overwhelming vote.
The measure now moves on to the Senate, which is expected to also pass the bill before the end of the month. Governor Deval Patrick supports the legislation and said he will sign it.
“I think it (the expansion of gambling) is very close,” State Rep. Martin Walsh (D) told reporters after the vote. “I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to see a casino bill made law here in Massachusetts by early fall.”
By a vote of 123-32, House members approved the legislation after one day of debate and then hours spent going through 154 amendments. The bill authorizes the appointment of an independent gaming commission and one of the amendments that passed directs the commissioners to draft legislation allowing internet poker in the state.
The bill also includes aid to the state’s horse racing industry. The three casinos would send 25% of their revenue to the state and the slots facility would be taxed at 40%, with 9% of that earmarked for the racetracks and the breeding program.
Although licenses for all of the casinos and the slots facility must be competitively bid with no guarantees for any of the state’s three pari-mutuel facilities, Suffolk Downs is said to have the inside track on winning one of the resort casino licenses. The track’s ownership group has a partnership agreement with Caesar’s Entertainment and develop a world class casino on the racetrack grounds if successful.
Suffolk Downs chief executive officer Chip Tuttle said, "The family of workers and horsemen at Suffolk Downs appreciates the hard work of the members of the House in approving a bill that most people agree will lead to thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars of revenue for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
"With its 76-year history of gaming, we believe Suffolk Downs is an ideal location for the state and the local community to maximize the positive economic impacts of resort style gaming and we look forward to the opportunity to compete for one of these licenses should this bill become law."
Each of the casino licenses carries a minimum cost of $85 million and requires an investment of at least $500 million into the facility.