Expanded Gaming Heats Up in Massachusetts

Key legislators, governor work to settle their differences and draft a compromise.

By Lynne Snierson

The expansion of gambling is back on the front burner in Massachusetts as key legislators and the governor work to settle their differences and draft a compromise bill that could be passed as early as July.

“Given the urgency for revenue and jobs, I will continue to work with Gov. (Deval) Patrick, and Senate president (Therese) Murray to find a consensus on gaming,” said Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo in a statement. The speaker did tell reporters that he would like a bill ready by July, when the current legislative session ends, and that in a meeting with House committee chairmen on June 8 the gaming issue was stressed.

In July 2010, the expansion of gambling looked like a sure bet but the bill died in legislative session. The three leaders could not agree on the number of licenses to be granted for the installation of slot machines at the state’s three surviving racetracks, the number of resort casinos, and the process to award those licenses. At the time, DeLeo, who represents the district where Suffolk Downs and the former Wonderland greyhound track are located, insisted on two racinos and no-bid contracts. Patrick has staunchly opposed no-bid racinos while supporting three resort casinos.

Sources indicated that now a compromise bill would include the three resort casinos, with slots to be allowed at only one racetrack through an open bid process. Suffolk Downs, which purchased the shuttered Wonderland property, harness racing facility Plainridge Race Course, and Raynham Greyhound Park, which no longer conducts live greyhound racing as the sport is outlawed in Massachusetts, have openly expressed their desire to be included in any gambling expansion.

The Boston Herald reported that Raynham owner George Carney and the Wampanoag Native American Tribe are in talks termed as “very preliminary” on the sale of Carney’s 100-acre property. The Wampanoags have achieved the status of federal recognition and a sale might make passage of the compromise bill easier because one fewer track would be competing for the sole racino license.

When reached June 9, Suffolk Downs officials had no comment. Earlier this year, Suffolk announced the track has entered into a strategic alliance with Caesars Entertainment to develop a world class casino on the racetrack grounds should gambling be expanded and the track acquire one of the licenses.