Governor Deval Patrick, joined by AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes (right), spoke to reporters yesterday after securing the union's backing for his plan to license three resort casinos. (WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF) 2/8/2008
Posted by "Scott" from Williamstown, Massachusetts on January 26, 2008.
Check it out, all towns in Bosley's district are getting the shaft from Patrick, Just compare Pittsfield to North Adams and see. Check other districts that are covered by Reps who oppose casinos.
"Budget worries leaders"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Saturday, January 26, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — Reactions by Berkshire city mayors and town managers to Gov. Deval L. Patrick's proposed budget is mixed, depending on funding levels.
But up and down the county, administrators are nervous, some are doubtful, about the more than $100 million anticipated from casino licensing fees — upon which municipal funding relies in the governor's $28.2 billion budget.
In the corner office of North Adams City Hall, Mayor John Barrett III is hoping to make up for a $281,000 net loss in state funding — and that's assuming that casino revenues materialize during the coming fiscal year.
"That budget is dead on arrival," Barrett said. "The governor promised he wouldn't balance the budget on the backs of cities and towns, but here he is balancing his budget on the back of this city. I'm very disappointed and I don't know how we're going to deal with it. We're just hoping the Legislature will help us out with some of the problems."
Among Barrett's concerns is charter school funding and health insurance for retired teachers, both of which would cost the city more under Patrick's budget plan.
"It's not very good for North Adams," Barrett said. "And to make things even worse, that budget is counting heavily on the casinos (revenue) coming through, which everyone says has little or no chance of getting through the Legislature."
Highlights of the governor's proposed budget include an additional $100 million for new public safety provisions and a $368 million increase in education funding.
In Pittsfield, Mayor James M. Ruberto is grateful for a $2.5 million increase in the city's education budget proposed by the governor. Other city operations are funded at the same level "for all intents and purposes," said Ruberto.
"I think the governor should be commended for his commitment to education," he said.
Ruberto noted that the casino licensing proceeds are being used to bolster declining lottery revenue, a staple for municipal funding from the state.
"I think we're all suffering from the lack of growth in the lottery, and hopefully that shortfall will be met, if not through gaming, then proceeds from some other source," he said.
Ruberto agreed with Barrett in calling for a revision of the charter school funding formula.
"I think that this budget shows how important it is that the charter schools should be funded in another way," he said. "Our school system should not suffer the per-head charge (for students choosing to attend charter schools), nor should any other school."
For some Berkshire towns, funding is at best at the same level as last year, and includes the casino funding source that is causing jitters there too.
According to William Ketcham, Adams town administrator, the town is slated to be funded at the same level as last year, but when inflation is factored in, that funding level results in a net reduction.
"It's nice to see the attempt to keep the funding level steady, but to keep things steady it should go up slightly with the inflation rate, which it does not," Ketcham said. "So there is less we'll be able to do with the money — the net is going to be down a little bit, and a lot of this (funding) is from the (casino) gaming proceeds, which consequently makes us a little nervous."
During an interview last week, Peter Fohlin, town manager in Williamstown, questioned the wisdom of including the casino revenue.
By including the casinos funds as a revenue source in the budget, Fohlin said, the governor "has turned the whole thing into an even bigger guessing game, when what we need from the state is predictability."
Burke LaClair, Great Barrington's town manager, noted that with the casino revenue, the town's state funding numbers are essentially the same.
"I understand why it's (the casino revenue) in his budget, but I'm certainly not counting on that as assured revenue," LaClair said. "But this is just the kickoff, and not necessarily where it's going to end up. We are going to wait and see how the House and the Senate approach the bigger picture."
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Labor doubles down for casinos"
January 26, 2008
POWERFUL LABOR unions are preparing a major push in support of Governor Patrick's bill to create three destination casinos in Massachusetts, even if it requires running up the backs of lethargic legislators.
"We want to put them on notice," says Sean O'Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25. "We're not going to support any candidates that don't support our issues." A letter to that effect is on its way to state legislators. It's an especially aggressive approach, O'Brien says. But like other union leaders in the state, O'Brien says he cannot stand by and watch the Legislature squander what the Patrick administration estimates to be the potential creation of 30,000 construction jobs and 20,000 permanent jobs.
Labor is flexing its muscle for a good reason. Patrick has proposed a rational and lucrative plan to bring three destination casinos to the state. Licensing fees alone could generate $800 million, with recurring revenues for the state of about $400 million annually. His plan includes sound protections for those at risk of compulsive gambling. Yet the Legislature has sat on its hands.
Patrick told Globe editors yesterday that he is ready to spur lawmakers to action on his economic-development plans. His casino effort is already underway. Earlier this month, the governor and his top economic advisers made a major pitch for casinos to labor leaders. The building trades and hotel workers didn't need much convincing. But support from the Massachusetts Teachers Association reinforces the governor's view that casino revenues are critical to the state's wider ability to support education and aid to cities and towns. Patrick drove home that point even harder this week when he included in his budget some of the anticipated revenue from the auction of casino licenses. His message for the Legislature yesterday was: "If you have a better idea, bring it."
Lobbying efforts by labor are sure to be heard by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, whose skepticism about casino gambling is a major impediment to getting a bill passed this session. DiMasi prefers to concentrate on the economic development possibilities of Patrick's $1 billion life sciences initiative. But that won't placate the AFL-CIO, the state's largest labor organization representing 400,000 workers. They are fighting for the majority of adults in Massachusetts who have no college degrees and aren't likely to benefit directly from higher-end job initiatives. And casino jobs, as a rule, pay decent wages and provide healthcare and pension benefits. The AFL-CIO is expected to unveil a casino strategy soon that is sure to go beyond quiet lobbying and legislative breakfasts.
The governor needs to make the most of labor's enthusiasm. The unions are offering Patrick invaluable shock troops - at a time when he needs a victory.
"Time to support casinos"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Monday, January 28, 2008
To the Editor:
It's wonderful that in our country we can express opposing views regarding political issues. Having served and lived for a total of six years stationed in West Berlin, Germany, during the 1970s and 1980s with the U.S. Army, I've seen first hand how different life can be and how lucky we are as Americans to have choices and opportunities.
What I do not understand is why a number of our elected officials oppose Gov. Patrick's support for the establishment of three casinos in our state. Let's face it, we need financial help in this state!
I have no facts or figures to share with you other than this: How many of our state residents visit Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas and elsewhere, to go and spend their money at casino resorts? I assume the number is significant, and the bottom line is simple: This is money leaving OUR state.
The people who choose to visit these locations are adults. I may be wrong, but I believe most adults who visit these locations are not addicted to gambling. I personally know a handful of people who visit these locations, and they are superb, educated, responsible adults.
Why would our elected officials refuse an opportunity to provide, as Gov. Patrick stated, an opportunity to "create 20,000 permanent jobs?" Representatives are supposed to represent and support the views of their constituents, regardless of their own viewpoints. I'm not convinced this is always the case.
Personally, I do not gamble and have not visited a casino. But I think it's irresponsible in our state of fiscal woes not to support this initiative. The casinos will create jobs, provide funds to the state, and our citizens might just choose to spend more of their money in OUR state.
Will there be associated problems with casinos? Sure, just like there are problems with just about any large corporation in our state. Nay-sayers will always come up with reasons why we should not have casinos.
One thing I appreciated and learned in the Army was to always look for and concentrate on solutions. "Don't tell me why we cannot do something; tell me HOW we can do it!" was what our leadership taught, trained and lived every day.
We are living in the 21st century, and we need to move forward and solve problems. We need help. We need new ideas. We need to be fiscally responsible. Stop the drain of money leaving our state and create the 20,000 jobs these casinos will bring. It's a tremendous opportunity.
Jan. 25, 2008
"AFL-CIO supports Patrick on casinos"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, February 8, 2008
NATICK - Governor Deval Patrick won the backing of the state's largest labor organization for his casino proposal yesterday, giving him a strong partner to help him pressure skeptical legislators.
AFL-CIO leaders voted unanimously at an executive board meeting to endorse Patrick's plan to license three resort casinos around the state as a way of spurring economic development and creating jobs.
Patrick has launched a concerted effort to round up organized labor support for legalized gambling, and this is the biggest endorsement so far. The AFL-CIO has more than 400,000 members from 700 local unions. Patrick's casino effort also has the backing of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; UNITE HERE, which represents hotel and food service workers; and Teamsters Local 25, which sent letters to legislators saying they risked losing endorsements if they voted against casinos.
AFL-CIO officials said yesterday they would make the casino proposal one of their top priorities this year, on par with healthcare reform and education. They said they plan to lobby legislators vigorously and will take a lawmaker's stance on casinos into account when deciding whom to endorse and campaign for over the course of this election year. The union also plans a grass-roots campaign, encouraging members to write letters to local papers, call radio talk shows, and call legislators.
"We're engaged," said Robert J. Haynes, president of the AFL-CIO. "We're happy to participate in this effort. We think it's very, very good for the Commonwealth, and we're going to do our best to make sure it's passed. . . . We're going to be very aggressive."
Haynes said there are no plans to field candidates against those who vote against casinos. Still, the move presents many lawmakers with a difficult choice: whether to support the governor's controversial casino legislation or risk alienating a powerful interest that helped many of them get into office.
"We are trying to encourage the Legislature to bring this to a hearing, to a debate, and to a vote, up or down," said Patrick, flanked at a hotel ballroom by two dozen union workers holding signs that read, "CASINOS = 20,000 jobs for Massachusetts."
Patrick's casino legislation has provisions that would encourage casino developers to use union workers, and it also gives organized labor a seat on an advisory committee that would have influence over casino regulations.
The casino bill is before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. While Patrick called for a deadline for action yesterday, no hearings have been scheduled, and there are indications that it faces an uphill battle.
Twelve of 19 members of the committee said they are inclined to vote against the proposal unless wholesale changes are made, according to an informal Globe poll in December. Three members said they are leaning in favor of the proposal, and four said they are on the fence.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is seen as a chief obstacle. His office released a statement yesterday responding to the union move. "We understand that union leaders want jobs for their members, but the question is, what kind of jobs do we want?" the statement said. "We think the focus should be on higher-paying, stable jobs in the life sciences, biotech, and the innovation economy."
Other legislators said that the union endorsement was significant, but that its effect would be minimized on a hot-button issue that has many other interest groups trying to chime in.
"I definitely think this has an impact," said Senator Mark C. Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who is skeptical of the casino proposal. "But how many people vote on a major issue like this based on a single group, even one as powerful as this. I don't know that it changes things dramatically."
While the unions are a powerful and organized constituency, casino opponents have been working to become more organized, including the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the League of Women Voters, and the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
"I'm not afraid of them, and I'm not afraid of Donald Trump on this," said Laura Everett, spokeswoman for Casino Free Mass, a coalition of statewide groups opposed to casinos. "We have a larger question here about what kind of jobs we want. Are we cultivating a dynamic, forward-looking job force, or are we settling for quick fixes?"
In recent weeks, the governor has increasingly sought to put pressure on legislators to act by appealing directly to their constituents across the state. Patrick made a pitch in an annual address last month before the Massachusetts Municipal Association and mentioned it in his impassioned State of the State address. Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray invited 20 mayors to the State House specifically to talk about casinos. Several Cabinet members have started making appearances at meetings across the state to encourage local officials to get behind the plan.
Patrick also put $124 million in projected casino revenues into his budget, putting fiscal pressure on legislators to act on his proposal. The AFL-CIO said yesterday it is not taking a position on whether the casino revenues should be included in the budget.
Unions love casinos because they result in thousands of new jobs for constructing roads, hotels, and resorts and potentially unionized jobs in the casinos themselves.
Casino salaries would average about $45,000 to $50,000 and would add $50 million to $80 million to the state tax rolls, Patrick said. He also argues that his casino proposal would create 20,000 new and permanent jobs and 30,000 construction jobs, although some critics have suggested those estimates are overblown.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Patrick gets tough over casinos"
February 11, 2008
EFFORTS by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to place its planned casino site in Middleborough in a federal trust are more likely to end in a drawn-out fight than a healthy payoff for either the tribe or the residents of Massachusetts. The Patrick administration is right to resist the Wampanoags' efforts and to encourage the tribe instead to bid for a state-issued casino license.
The tribe, which won federal recognition last year, is now seeking to establish official sovereignty over more than 500 acres, which would place it largely outside the state's jurisdiction. The Patrick administration has sent an 125-page objection to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, arguing that the tribe has failed to provide adequate safeguards in such areas as zoning, public safety, labor, consumer protection, and the environment. These are substantive issues, but the real message is that the administration is serious about following its own casino plan.
Patrick proposes sensible legislation that would license three destination casinos across the state. The plan is carefully crafted to generate new jobs and new tax revenues, including an estimated $600 million to $900 million in one-time licensing fees and about $400 million in annual revenue. The proposal even offers special consideration to casino developers who join with federally recognized Indian tribes from Massachusetts. The Wampanoags' gambit could weaken this well-designed plan by diluting the worth of the licenses and reducing the state's take. And it opens the door to the snarled world of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which poses risks for the tribe as well as the state.
The 1988 law, known as IGRA, provides the statutory framework for tribal gambling. But what, if anything, gets built on that framework is far from predictable. It often takes years for an Indian casino proposal to wind its way through the Department of Interior. More complicated still is the requirement that the tribe and the state negotiate a compact that can cover oversight, payments in lieu of taxes, and methods to handle civil and criminal matters. Such negotiations often break down when one side accuses the other of failure to negotiate in good faith.
The bramble of IGRA-related court cases should serve as a warning. Some decisions place few restrictions on the kinds of gambling that tribes can offer on their land, including full-fledged casinos in states where slots and table games are prohibited. Other decisions leave the tribe with little recourse if it believes a state has failed to negotiate in good faith. One day, the wind blows toward tribal self-determination. The next day, it shifts in the direction of state sovereign immunity. And the secretary of the Interior, not a state's elected officials, calls the final shot.
The federal law is too big a crap shoot. Massachusetts - and the tribe - can do better.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, GEORGE BACHRACH & PHILIP WARBURG
"Rural casinos leave a huge carbon footprint"
By George Bachrach and Philip Warburg, February 11, 2008
IF YOU'D like to get a glimpse of Governor Deval Patrick's vision for "destination" casinos, take a virtual trip south of the border to Foxwoods, somewhere in the wilds of southeastern Connecticut.
The location of this mega-gambling parlor - purportedly the world's largest - doesn't seem to matter. The official website describes it only as "within easy driving distance from four of the East Coast's major cities: New York, Boston, Hartford, and Providence."
We support the governor's desire to find new ways to boost the Massachusetts economy. But in his headlong rush toward resort casinos as job creators and revenue generators, he seems to be blinded by the glare of sleek hotel towers rising out of verdant New England countryside. He also seems to be forgetting his administration's recently proclaimed commitment to a very different road map - one that will lead Massachusetts toward urgently needed reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that are hurtling New England and the world toward climate catastrophe.
Resort casinos, if successful, draw people - lots of people, round the clock and throughout the year.
If Massachusetts sites these mega-resorts in remote locations, a lot more people will be racking up highway miles, giving an unwelcome boost to automobile-generated greenhouse gas emissions - the state's fastest-growing contributor to global warming. All of this comes at a time when we need to be strengthening our towns and cities rather than promoting sprawl.
Foxwoods, by its own estimate, draws more than 40,000 visitors daily with many, if not most, arriving by car. We can only expect the same, or worse, if the governor's dream of three resort casinos sited in the open countryside comes true.
The governor has been candid in expressing his "misgivings about a casino in any city." He asserts that "the whole point is to create a resort destination." Urban residents have raised valid concerns about social and other impacts of casinos located in their communities. But have the governor's capable advisers clued him in to the environmental costs of creating miles-from-nowhere mega-magnets?
Patrick's advisers often speak with passion and determination about the need to promote "smart" growth by bringing new jobs, better public transit, and affordable housing to our cities and towns. They acknowledge the obvious benefits of policies designed to get people out of their cars, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution associated with long driving distances. They also espouse smart growth as a way to stem the encroachment of low-density sprawl into the Commonwealth's dwindling farmland and forested areas, and as a way to keep highway construction and maintenance costs within bounds.
It's hard to imagine a development scheme more inimical to those worthy goals than the governor's resort casinos.
Included in Patrick's casino bill, now before Beacon Hill lawmakers, is a requirement that casinos conform to the Commonwealth's "sustainable development principles." Along with environmentally friendly building design and use of renewable energy, casinos are to apply the US Green Building Council's Neighborhood Development Rating System, which calls for projects to be sited where jobs and services are accessible by foot or public transit.
It's a mystery how this smart growth standard squares with the governor's promotion of remotely sited "destination casinos." The endless stream of cars reaching far into the countryside will ensure that even a "green" casino has a very dirty environmental footprint.
The Patrick administration's road map for combating climate change - slated for release this spring - must incorporate an earnest and ambitious commitment to smart growth policies.
Ignoring the environmental impacts of remotely sited casinos is an oversight the governor simply cannot afford if he wants to be taken seriously as a leader in the battle against climate change.
George Bachrach is president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Philip Warburg is president of the Conservation Law Foundation.
"Mayors, unions band together to support casino effort"
The Associated Press (The Berkshire Eagle Online)
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
BOSTON (AP) — A coalition of politicians, labor and business leaders is forming to support the development of resort-style casinos in Massachusetts.
The group, which includes Boston Mayor Tom Menino, is officially launching today.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth includes the state AFL-CIO and the mayors of other cities, including Salem and Chicopee.
They are coming together to support Gov. Deval Patrick's efforts to build three casinos in the state.
Supporters say casinos would create thousands of jobs and bring in millions of dollars of revenue to Massachusetts.
"Gambling's costs outweigh its gains"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Quakers have historically opposed gambling as a way to finance the operations of government. So, when Governor Patrick proposed the legalization of casino gambling to offset possible operating deficits and to create jobs, the members of South Berkshire Friends Meeting used the introduction of this legislation as an opportunity to examine the principles underlying our traditional objections.
The moral and social costs of gambling are well known and our concern is deeply held. In addition to the pressure on families and marriages created by gambling, casino slot machines are the most addictive form of gambling. But the heart of the governor's argument was economic: increased state revenues, economic development, and job creation. Relying on statistical and social research published by our sister faith communities in the Massachusetts Council of Churches, we learned that:
— Neighboring states with casino gambling have not met their budget problems with promised gambling revenue. In fact, estimates show that for every dollar realized through gambling revenue, it requires three dollars from taxpayers to pay for social services and protective agency costs to deal with problems related to gambling.
— The promised job creation and economic development rarely occur, leading two of the most pro-business papers (The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Business Journal) to oppose the introduction of casino gambling.
On further reflection, local Quakers have not changed our minds about gambling. At a Meeting for Business held this month, South Berkshire Friends Meeting (Quaker) adopted the following position:
We deplore the legalization of gambling by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, including the use of slot machines, in order to raise revenue for public services. This is wrong in principle. In light of the social and economic costs of gambling, we should tax ourselves for the services we require rather than depending upon social ills to finance social services.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
The writer is clerk of South Berkshire Friends Meeting.
"Speaker DiMasi rips governor’s casino proposal"
March 3, 2008 - afternoon
By Boston Globe Staff
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said today that Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts is "clearly losing credibility" after a Globe analysis found that the administration was "excessively optimistic" in its estimate that the proposal would create 30,000 construction jobs.
“When the Governor embraced casino gambling in September, I raised a number of critical questions I felt needed to be answered before we allowed a casino culture into our Commonwealth,” DiMasi, a longtime critic of casino gambling, said in a press release issued by his office. “To date, most of those questions remain unanswered and, as evidenced by a Boston Globe analysis published on Sunday, new questions are coming to light.”
The Globe story compared Patrick's assumptions with other New England casinos and an industry standard. Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics for Moody's Economy.com, when asked by the Globe to make an independent analysis, said building three casinos at a cost of $1 billion each in Massachusetts would create a total of 4,000 to 5,000 new construction jobs -- not 30,000. Even a group representing building trade unions -- Patrick's major ally in the casino debate -- said Patrick's projection was 10,000 jobs too high.
In the story Sunday, a spokeswoman for the state economic development secretary said in a statement: "We have confidence in our casino job projections and have hired an independent third-party firm with extensive expertise in the gaming industry to provide an analysis of the governor's plan."
In the statement today, DiMasi ripped the Patrick administration.
"It seems like we have a proposal where no tough questions were even asked -- let alone answered," DiMasi said. "The Governor clearly has the burden of convincing the Legislature that this casino plan should be adopted. So far, the case has not been made, the evidence isn't there and the Governor’s arguments for casinos are clearly losing credibility."
"DiMasi scoffs at casino job plan: Says governor's bid 'losing credibility'"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, March 4, 2008
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi stepped up his attacks yesterday on Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts, accusing the governor and his staff of failing to do their homework and calling Patrick's prediction that it would generate 30,000 new construction jobs "absurd."
The unusually harsh critique from DiMasi, who until now has said only that he was skeptical of Patrick's plan, signaled that the speaker is preparing for a no-holds-barred fight as the House plans hearings on the governor's proposal.
"The governor's arguments for casinos are clearly losing credibility," DiMasi said in a written statement.
DiMasi was reacting to a report published in Sunday's Globe that detailed how Patrick's prediction of 30,000 new construction jobs, 10,000 each from three $1 billion casinos, rested solely on a gambling industry estimate and appeared excessively optimistic.
The report said that just 2,600 new construction jobs have been generated by the $1.5 billion expansion of two casinos in Connecticut. The story also quoted an independent financial analyst who said that 4,000 to 5,000 new construction jobs appeared more reasonable for three casinos statewide.
Although his administration defended its estimate, Patrick downplayed the significance of the figure, even though he cited it as evidence of gambling's economic benefits in his State of the State speech Jan. 24.
"There are going to be all kinds of claims about whether it's 30,000 construction jobs or 20,000 construction jobs or 5,000 con struction jobs," he said. "I can tell you that whatever the number is, it beats the opposition, which is zero."
Later in the day, answering reporters' questions a second time, Patrick responded to DiMasi's broadside by saying he would continue trying to persuade individual House members of the merits of casinos.
"He is making a lot of noises that sound like he has made up his own mind," Patrick said of DiMasi. "But there are a lot of other members in the body. They are entitled to a point of view."
DiMasi's salvo was clearly a blow to casino supporters in the House, who have been waging an uphill battle. An informal Globe survey of House members last week indicated that more than a third of representatives remain undecided and that negative votes outnumber the positive by a significant margin.
"It's frustrating," said Representative Brian Wallace, a Boston Democrat who has been marshaling votes in favor of casinos. "We are changing votes, we are convincing people on the merits, but a lot of people aren't to going to stand up because of these statements. [DiMasi] is a very, very powerful guy."
Senate President Therese Murray, who is generally in favor of casinos, declined to comment yesterday. But Senator Michael Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat who supports gaming, said that DiMasi was trying to change the focus of the casino debate and "play a little offense."
"Even if we say the governor was a little overoptimistic, what about 20,000 jobs?," said state Senator Michael W. Morrissey. "That's not exactly small potatoes. That's a lot of jobs. It's good for the state. Good for the economy."
But DiMasi suggested that Patrick was losing ground with legislators, who must approve the plan for it to forward.
"The governor clearly has the burden of convincing the Legislature that this casino plan should be adopted," DiMasi said. "So far, the case has not been made. . . . The evidence isn't there."
DiMasi highlighted another aspect of the Globe story, the source of the 30,000 estimate. Patrick's administration has acknowledged that the source was Suffolk Downs, a major player in the state's horse and dog track gambling industry and a would-be bidder for a casino license.
Suffolk Downs asserted it would generate 10,000 construction jobs on a $1 billion casino in East Boston in a report submitted to Daniel O'Connell, the state economic development secretary, who is shepherding the casino proposal for Patrick. The administration then multiplied that estimate by three, for three casinos, to come up with 30,000, according to a written reply to Globe questions by O'Connell's office.
"The fact that those figures were taken from Suffolk Downs, a casino advocate, at face value and simply multiplied by three [makes] the argument . . . even more questionable," the DiMasi statement said. "As of today, it seems like we have a proposal where no tough questions were even asked, let alone answered."
DiMasi has come under fire himself and is the subject of an ethics complaint filed by the state Republican Party for playing golf in Florida with a top Suffolk Downs executive, Joseph O'Donnell, while the track was vying for a casino. DiMasi has said that he did nothing wrong and that, in fact, he should be lauded for turning down a golf invitation from casino mogul Donald Trump.
Suffolk Downs responded to DiMasi's broadside yesterday by issuing a statement from its chairman, Bill Mulrow. Mulrow said Suffolk Downs gathered input from multiple parties to develop the construction jobs estimate it gave to the Patrick administration. Mulrow suggested the 10,000 figure took into account work that would be performed over multiple years and in multiple phases.
"We consulted with gaming, finance, and construction experts in our projections,' the statement said. "It is clear that there are different methodologies. . . . Regardless of which projections are used, the economic benefits jobs, revenue, and increased tourism are compelling."
O'Connell stood by the state's estimates and methodology. He said DiMasi neglected to mention other important aspects of the plan, including 20,000 permanent casino resort jobs. O'Connell's office has not performed independent studies, but last month hired Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey to analyze financial benefits and the job creation potential of Patrick's plan.
The proposal calls for inviting casino developers to bid for three licenses, one in Metropolitan Boston, one in Southeast Massachusetts, and one in Western Massachusetts. Patrick believes the state can raise about $200 million to $300 million in license fees, which are to have 10-year terms, for each casino. In addition, he believes the state will receive up to $400 million in total annual gambling proceeds from the three facilities.
Andrew Ryan and Andrea Estes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Unnecessary hype on casinos"
March 4, 2008
GOVERNOR Patrick wants to see three resort casinos built in Massachusetts, but he hurts his own cause by making hyperbolic claims about the potential job benefits. Unvarnished information should be sufficient to make the case, if faithfully presented by the administration and carefully considered by the Legislature - beginning with a hearing of the joint economic development committee on March 18.
In a Globe report on Sunday, several analysts contradicted Patrick's claim that his casino plan would create 30,000 construction jobs. One macroeconomics expert placed the figure at 4,000 to 5,000 new construction jobs over a three-year building period. Job estimates by another economist reached as high as 20,700. There are many variables at play, not the least of which is the size of a resort. But based on typical labor costs for modern casino projects, which usually range from 27 to 33 percent of their construction budgets, it's hard to see how job creation could possibly climb to 30,000.
There is no need for Patrick to oversell casinos. They offer a chance to recapture millions of dollars now spent by Massachusetts residents in Connecticut casinos. Cards must be dealt. Meals must be served. Security must be enforced. And there is no arguing with the fact that resort casinos are a labor-intensive industry. Benefits also extend to the rest of the state. Taxes on gross gambling receipts in Massachusetts could be used for property tax relief, health, education, or other state needs. Though Patrick's job and revenue figures may be open to challenge, his basic premise is sound: passage of a casino bill opens a new economic development front in Massachusetts.
For their part, casino critics offer a game of "gotcha," a diversion that doesn't create a single job or dollar in tax relief.
Within two weeks, a report commissioned by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce should shed more light not only on job figures but on other areas in dispute, including Patrick's estimate that the state could realize $400 million in annual revenue from three resort casinos. Critics, including the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, contend that the state would be lucky to pocket half that amount. Legislators, many of whom are undecided on casinos, will be looking for dispassionate information. The chamber's report could fill that role, coming as it does from an organization whose membership is itself split on the benefits of casino gambling.
There is no precise mathematical formula to resolve the debate over casino gambling. There are social costs, such as gambling addiction, to weigh against the economic development and revenue gains. Patrick's excessive job claim makes his sales job harder. But it doesn't diminish the overall soundness of his proposal.
"Patrick challenges DiMasi over casino proposal: Criticizes speaker for not devising revenue plan"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, March 5, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick fired back at House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi yesterday over his criticism of Patrick's casino construction job estimates with a simple message: Put up or shut up.
Patrick, seeking to shift the focus from a dispute over specific jobs numbers, sent a letter to each of the 155 members of the House chiding DiMasi for not coming up with a revenue plan of his own.
"Attacking ideas without proposing sound alternatives is not good economic policy, nor what the public expects or deserves," Patrick wrote. "If the speaker has other proposals that will generate the benefits of our legislation, including direct property tax relief for over 1 million households, I look forward to hearing them."
A Globe report Sunday said Patrick's estimate that building three casinos in Massachusetts would produce 30,000 construction jobs appeared excessively optimistic, compared to actual experience and independent estimates.
On Monday, DiMasi, citing the Globe report, accused the governor and his staff of failing to produce a realistic jobs estimate and said Patrick's plan is losing credibility on Beacon Hill. He called Patrick's estimates absurd.
But Patrick and his economic development secretary, Daniel O'Connell, countered yesterday that the dispute over casino construction jobs should not be allowed to tarnish the overall promise of casino gambling, including new jobs and a new source of revenue for the state.
"Regardless of whether the proposal creates 30,000 construction jobs over the next few years or 5,000 to 20,000 construction jobs, as reflected in other estimates, one thing is certain: The speaker's alternative will create zero jobs," the governor said in his letter to lawmakers.
O'Connell, who is shepherding the governor's casino proposal, appeared to shift his stance after standing behind the original estimates Monday. He conceded in an interview yesterday that the governor's 30,000 construction jobs estimate was "not a precise calculation," even though Patrick used it to help sell his casino plan in his State of the State speech Jan. 24.
O'Connell stood by other estimates that Patrick has touted, including 20,000 permanent jobs at the casinos and $400 million in annual gambling proceeds for the state.
It is a sensitive time for the casino debate. With hearings scheduled to begin March 18, an informal Globe survey of House members last week indicated that more than a third of representatives remain undecided and that negative votes outnumber positive by a significant margin.
DiMasi was unavailable to respond to Patrick's letter last night, said his spokesman, David Guarino.
"It is understandable that the governor is concerned, since the numbers do not add up and he's losing credibility on this issue," Guarino said.
The state Republican Party also pounced yesterday and poked Patrick for his out-of-state campaigning for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"Governor Patrick sure is earning his title as the Great Exaggerator," Barney Keller, spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party, said in a written statement. "He knows how to buy a plane ticket to Ohio, but he doesn't know how many jobs his own plan will supposedly create."
Meanwhile, a team of the governor's Cabinet secretaries met for an hour yesterday with members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to discuss the tribe's proposal for a casino in Middleborough.
It was the first meeting since Patrick's administration filed a formal objection to the tribe's plans with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The tribe is seeking federal approval to build a casino without state oversight, while Patrick wants to see the tribe develop its casino under his proposal for state licenses, which would ensure that the state gets a share of revenue.
Both sides were conciliatory in public statements after the closed-door meeting yesterday, but they did not provide details of their discussions or shed any light on their positions.
"We definitely want to work with the state," said tribal council chairman Shawn Hendricks. "Our tribe members, we live here; we have friends here. It's common sense that we would, you know, build a relationship. We don't want to come out in a negative light and come out in a controversy with anyone."
Hendricks also said that, although the tribe is working with the state, it would continue to pursue its federal application.
"When would we want to build it?" Hendricks said. "Three days ago."
If the tribe is able to win federal trust status for the land, the property effectively becomes sovereign territory, and the state risks being shut out of gambling proceeds. State regulators would not have any sway over details such as zoning, traffic, environmental impact, and public safety. The value of any future state-licensed casinos would also be diluted.
The argument of inevitability for an Indian casino has been another key selling point for Patrick. An Indian casino is coming, he says, so the state should make sure it happens on its own terms.
"There's no question in my mind that there will be a facility taken into federal trust by the tribe," O'Connell said in the interview yesterday. "We will have a Native American casino in the Commonwealth and in the not-too-distant future."
Meanwhile, the state's racetrack advocates are pushing for a compromise that would allow for slots at the state's four racetracks. A similar proposal in 2006 failed by a 100-to-55 vote, but track owners are arguing that they could bring much-needed revenue to the state quicker than casinos.
Several track-friendly legislators will probably attempt to substitute their own legislation enabling slots at tracks for the governor's casino bill.
A pro-casino organization, the Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth, announced new supporters yesterday, including Mayor William Scanlon of Beverly, Mayor Edward Caulfield of Lowell, the Lowell City Council, and the Springfield Police Patrolman's Association.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"Casino numbers recrunched, officials' roles are crunched"
The Boston Globe, Letters, March 5, 2008
FOR THOSE legislators who find it difficult to publicly support casino gambling in the Commonwealth because House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's "skepticism" has made them "reluctant to . . . buck a leader who controls much of their political success," I would like to note: You were elected to help us, the citizens of Massachusetts, not yourselves, nor DiMasi ("Lawmakers undecided on casinos," Page A1, March 1).
Legalized gambling goes on in states that border Massachusetts. Opening casinos here is an opportunity to increase income to this state. It will hopefully help fund programs that are short of money, and perhaps even lower our tax burden in the future. To deny this to us is self-serving.
Yes, there is a concern about gambling addiction. But those who are addicted will find their way to one of the border states.
Legislators need to ask themselves whom they represent.
PETER GRAY, Boston
THE POLITICAL naivete or incompetence of Deval Patrick never ceases to amaze me. We now learn that not only was the governor wildly overestimating the number of jobs that would be created by his casino proposal (not a surprise), but he based those estimates on data provided by Suffolk Downs ("Number of casino jobs is disputed," Page A1, March 2). It's amazing that anyone thinks that any numbers about costs or benefits from a proponent and beneficiary of a government program deserve credibility. When Patrick ran under that vacuous slogan, "Together we can," someone should have asked, "can what?"
PHIL SHEVRIN, Lexington
I AM DISAPPOINTED that creating construction jobs for the unionized building trades is given such emphasis in the decision to build or not build casinos.
It seems that our government regularly feels compelled to create work for construction workers regardless of our need or desire for the product. Construction jobs by their very nature are temporary and cyclical, while the decision to open up our state to casinos will affect us long after the resorts are completed.
Perhaps the casino question is one that should be put to the voters, rather than leaving it to legislators who might be in office because of the support they received from the unionized building trades.
The whole casino gambit is prime for corruption at all levels.
LINDA MacDONALD, East Weymouth
"Patrick sends lawmakers brochure lauding casino plan: Softens figures on job creation"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, March 6, 2008
Aides to Governor Deval Patrick fanned out across the State House yesterday, delivering copies of an 11-page, color brochure extolling the benefits of the governor's casino plan to individual lawmakers, a move that emphasized his key arguments in advance of the scheduled release today of an independent analysis by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
The governor's brochure is largely a repackaging of his arguments in support of licensing three resort casinos. Created by administration staff for $1,000, it mentions that "tens of thousands" of construction jobs would be created, instead of the 30,000 figure they used for months before it was challenged this week as excessively optimistic.
"It will lead to tens of thousands of construction jobs, over 20,000 permanent jobs, and millions of dollars of new revenue," read a letter accompanying the brochure, written by Daniel O'Connell, the state's economic development secretary.
But in the glossy magazine, there are no dice. There's no slot machine. No golf course, spa, or restaurants. No casino.
Instead the brochure, titled "Destination Resort Casinos: Creating Jobs, Growing the Economy," uses stock photos. To illustrate the $50 million that would help those who develop gambling addictions, the administration used a stethoscope. In touting the money that would go toward communities experiencing spikes in traffic and crime, it used a group of people holding hands below the heading "community support."
The pamphlet was quickly criticized by opponents of the plan.
"It's like putting lipstick on a pig," said Representative Daniel Bosley, a North Adams Democrat and the chief casino critic in the House. "He keeps giving us the same information, wrapped up in a different package."
"The pamphlets sent out by Governor Patrick today are not half as slick as his phony economics," added Barney Keller, spokesman for the state Republican Party. "Instead of wasting money sending out these mailers, he should be focusing on providing Massachusetts residents with real job numbers for his proposals."
The brochure says 20,000 full-time jobs would be created; the state would reap $400 million in annual casino revenue, along with $50 million to $80 million in sales, meal, and hotel taxes. It highlights "the importance of acting now" by detailing the administration's concerns that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe would gain federal land and build a casino that the state would be unable to control.
The chamber is releasing a report today that analyzes the legislation the governor filed in October. The administration said it released the publication in advance of a March 18 hearing.
"As the hearing approaches, we feel it's important to provide the Legislature with as much comprehensive information regarding the governor's plan as possible," said Kofi Jones, spokeswoman for the state office overseeing the governor's legislation.
It was the second day in a row that Patrick issued a direct appeal to legislators.
On Tuesday he sent lawmakers a letter rebutting criticism from House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, who cited a Globe report Sunday that said the construction jobs estimates were too optimistic.
"It's interesting that the governor is going to this extent," said Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Newton Democrat who opposes casinos. "This kind of glossy marketing attempt, I've never seen come from someone else in government before."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photo by Matthew West)
"Gov makes book for casinos: Patrick pushes plan with 12-page handout"
By Casey Ross, Thursday, March 6, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Local Politics
Gov. Deval Patrick is intensifying his push to win approval for casinos by sending lawmakers a 12-page color magazine pitching the purported economic benefits of his plan to license three gambling resorts across Massachusetts.
The magazine, titled Destination Resort Casinos: Creating Jobs, Growing the Economy, was hand-delivered to legislators yesterday as Patrick and gaming opponents waged a vote-by-vote battle over the casino plan.
In his magazine, Patrick repeats assertions that casinos will generate $2 billion in economic activity and produce at least $400 million annually for transportation and property tax cuts.
The magazine drew immediate attacks from opponents yesterday.
“The pamphlets sent out by Gov. Patrick today are not half as slick as his phony economics,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for the state’s Republican Party. “Instead of wasting money sending out these (magazines), he should be focusing on providing Massachusetts residents with real job numbers for his proposals.”
Patrick aide Kofi Jones said Patrick is trying to keep the debate focused on economic potential instead of politics in advance of a hearing planned for March 18.
“As the hearing approaches, we feel its important to provide the Legislature with as much comprehensive information regarding the governor’s plan as possible,” she said.
The publication, which cost taxpayers $1,000 to produce, contains sections on job creation, state revenue estimates and a page titled, “The Importance of Acting Now.”
“The Masphee Wampanoag Tribe has submitted a land-in-trust application . . . for the purposes of operating a tribal casino,” the document states. “Unfortunately, a tribal casino authorized in conjunction with the land-in-trust does not guarantee adequate safeguards for the commonwealth’s residents . . . because state law may not apply on tribal land.”
Patrick has repeatedly used the potential for a tribal casino to argue that the state must create a legal framework for expanded gaming, or face the prospect of an Indian casino built without state controls.
State Rep. Daniel Bosley, the leading casino opponent in the House, has shot down that argument, saying a tribal casino is far from certain and that the tribe must follow a long regulatory process to gain approval for a proposed facility in Middleboro.
[Dan] Bosley (D-North Adams) and House Speaker Sal DiMasi have sharply opposed Patrick’s plan, forcing the governor to step up his effort to win votes from rank-and-file lawmakers.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Casino study royale"
March 7, 2008
LEGISLATORS WHOSE minds remain open to the potential benefits of building three resort casinos in Massachusetts should look carefully at a new study sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Although the authors take no position on whether to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts, their data suggests that the Patrick administration has been right all along to press the proposal as a realistic means to create new jobs and tax revenue.
The findings of the independent study by UHY Advisors, a major accounting firm, squares with the administration's claims, with one notable exception. Governor Patrick predicted that his casino plan would create 30,000 construction jobs over a roughly three-year period. But the UHY study pegs that number at 10,000 to 11,500. Another expert estimated significantly fewer construction jobs - 4,000 to 5,000 - in a Globe report on Sunday.
But one optimistic finding in the study is the projection of $2.7 billion in gross gambling revenues by 2012. The Patrick administration usually cites a figure of $2 billion. If the higher UHY figure is sound, it could convince some lawmakers that Patrick's casino proposal is simply too lucrative to ignore.
Other findings of the new study are largely consistent with administration estimates. The authors foresee the creation of 17,000 to 21,000 permanent jobs in the labor-intensive industry once the casinos are up and running. Patrick puts that figure at 20,000. State revenue projections also line up. Patrick predicts that $400 million a year would flow to the state, which he wants to use for property tax relief and transportation projects. The study projects between $376 million and $429 million.
Casino opponents worry that compulsive gambling and other social costs will outweigh the economic benefits. They gained momentum recently after Patrick oversold the construction jobs. But the measured UHY study reinforces the administration's original argument that resort casinos can be a significant force both for economic development and new state revenues.
Dueling studies are sure to be on display March 18, when hearings are scheduled on Patrick's casino bill at the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Some show that the number of crimes go up in casino counties. Others counter that crime rates fall after factoring in the population increases common to casino counties. Similar arguments may be heard concerning unemployment rates, home prices, and other common areas of dispute. But the real job of lawmakers is to clear away the underbrush of the debate and determine if casinos, on balance, are a net benefit for the state.
Based on the latest independent study, the answer is still yes.
Tension hasn't always existed between Deval Patrick and Salvatore DiMasi. The two shared a laugh last year before unveiling a film tax credit proposal. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File)
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, SCOT LEHIGH
"The darts are flying on Beacon Hill"
By Scot Lehigh, March 7, 2008
IT'S THE feud that won't go away: the Democratic speaker versus the Democratic governor.
The official word is that Deval Patrick and Salvatore DiMasi get along fine, but have strong policy disagreements.
And certainly neither man has been heard to mutter the State House equivalent of Henry II's "Who will free me from this turbulent priest?" - a question that caused several of the king's loyalists to think that it might please their sovereign if they sent the pesky Archbishop of Canterbury hurrying to meet his maker.
And yet, it has become apparent to everyone that if Patrick and DiMasi were college students, neither would list the other among his friends on his Facebook page.
Their latest spat began Monday, after the Sunday Globe offered a tough critique of the governor's estimate that building three casinos would create 1 billion new construction jobs. Um, sorry, I got carried away by the administration's infectious hyperbole. Make that 30,000 new hard-hat jobs.
DiMasi promptly pounced, issuing a statement that labeled the administration's fanciful 30,000 estimate "absurd" and added that Patrick's arguments in support of the casinos "are clearly losing credibility."
Patrick then fired back with a letter to Sal's minions in the House, complaining that the speaker shouldn't be "attacking ideas without proposing sound alternatives."
Nor did the back and forth end there. Getting into the spirit of things, the speaker's spokesman then took a poke of his own at the guv.
Now, I think there's an easy explanation for DiMasi's latest dart. Having just been caught with his putter out - that is, embarrassed by the Globe's account of his golf outings with Joe O'Donnell, one of the principals at casino-hungry Suffolk Downs - the speaker likely wants to demonstrate that, despite his golfing buddy's urgings, he hasn't wavered a whit in his opposition to gambling.
This, however, was only the latest episode in the ongoing tensions.
Another came in late January, when DiMasi graciously used Patrick's rocky start as governor to raise doubts about a potential Barack Obama presidency, saying that he didn't want the president "to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year."
For his part, Patrick portrayed that gibe as a case of an untamed tongue wagging an undisciplined speaker, making it known that DiMasi had expressed regrets for his remark.
"He came in, he's all hat in hand, and he said, 'I just can't help myself,' " the governor told the Lowell Sun, adding that though he liked DiMasi, "There's always going to be the glib sort of dig because he can't help himself. Even he says he can't."
So, to be serious for a minute, what explains the tension between Beacon Hill's two highest profile Democrats?
A legislator for almost three decades, DiMasi is said to view Patrick as an amateur who considers himself a cut above the other denizens of the State House. Intent on maximizing his own power, the speaker likes to prevail - and to take credit. One member of a past administration recounts trying to persuade DiMasi to accept a compromise this person described as "win-win," only to have him reply, "You have to understand, I don't care about win-win. All I care about is a win.' "
Another source who knows both men says that DiMasi brings a street-corner competitiveness to his political style, and can't resist taking the occasional whack. "This is temperament meeting opportunity," he says. "Patrick's naïveté and inexperience are just too much for Sal not to take advantage of."
For his part, Patrick seems to see himself as a Democratic CEO who should be allowed to set the overall course for the Legislature to follow. Further, the governor can be thin-skinned, with a propensity toward prickliness when challenged or criticized.
One close observer of state government sums up the two perspectives - and the tensions - this way: "I think there is frustration on the part of the governor and his people because he is the governor and he got elected statewide, while the speaker is elected by just a handful of people in the North End. I think there is frustration on the part of the speaker that the governor and his people don't consider the legislative leaders as co-equal partners inside the building."
That's not to say the relationship can't ever be productive. But thus far, what one-party rule has ushered in on Beacon Hill is more an era of comedy than comity.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Massachusetts Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi stayed on message with his opposition to casino gambling as he addressed the breakfast gathering of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce held at the Hyatt Regency in Boston.
(Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)
Surrounded by union officials with the State House as a backdrop, Governor Deval Patrick addressed a gathering of union workers and reaffirmed his commitment for casino gambling and the jobs he says it would create.
(Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)
Union workers who gathered on the Boston Common listened to Patrick reaffirm his commitment for casino gambling in the state.
(Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)
Tom White (left) of Middleborough and Ed Petrelli of Hull held signs during the rally on Boston Common.
Hundreds of casino supporters rallied before a legislative hearing to urge lawmakers to support Patrick's casino plan.
(AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)
Robert Haynes, state president of the AFL-CIO, spoke at the rally. He urged his members to attend the legislative hearing at the State House on the casino plan.
(AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)
People packed the Gardner Auditorium at the State House for the legislative hearing on casino gambling in Massachusetts.
(AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)
Janice Loux (left), president of Unite Here Local 26, applauded as Patrick finished his testimony at the State House.
Patrick conceded that his proposal to build three resort-style casinos faced likely defeat in the House, but he pressed lawmakers to allow for a full and open debate.
(AP Photo / Michael Dwyer)
State Representative Thomas Calter spoke during the legislative hearing.
(Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)
Senator Susan Tucker listened to questions during the hearing.
(Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
"Patrick urges lawmakers to resist pressure, consider casinos"
By Matt Viser and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff, March 18, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick acknowledged in testimony today that the prospects were bleak for his casino proposal, but he urged lawmakers to resist pressure from legislative leaders and continue to explore the economic advantages of expanded gambling.
“I have no illusions about the plans in the House for this legislation,” Patrick said during a standing-room-only hearing at the State House, according to prepared remarks distributed by his staff. “But I am here anyway, because what you do in this committee will determine whether that full and open debate is even possible. I am simply asking that an open debate begin -- rather than end -- today.”
The testimony before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies was part of a long-awaited hearing on Patrick’s plan to license three resort casinos. Union workers in hard hats, religious leaders, academics, environmentalists, and online poker players have converged on the State House to discuss the bill. The committee could issue a report on the bill today and send it to the full House for consideration as early as Thursday.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi set a dire tone this morning for what was expected to be a difficult day for proponents of expanding gambling as he blasted the governor’s plan.
“Casinos will absolutely cause human damage on a grand scale,” DiMasi said during a 30-minute address at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “After six months of debate on this bill, I believe this evidence is not there, the case has not been made, and time is running out.
“Right now, my answer is no.”
Shortly after DiMasi made his strongest rebuke to date, Patrick spoke at a rally on Boston Common, trying to shore up support for his proposal. He addressed a crowd of about 200 union workers in sweat shirts and wearing yellow, blue, and brown hard hats. The governor said in his testimony before the committee that the criticism of his proposal has been spirited, acrimonious, and at times so contradictory it became absurd.
“The most amusing part for me is having the same people argue in one minute that these facilities will produce little or no revenue and few new jobs,” Patrick said, “and then in the next that they will be so successful that they will suck all the economic life out of the surrounding communities.”
While DiMasi disparaged job projections and other specifics at the chamber breakfast, he also attacked the proposal in broad, moral strokes.
“The cost of cleaning up the human devastation brought by casino gambling is too great,” DiMasi said, according to prepared remarks distributed by his staff. “The cost of creating a casino culture is too high.”
At the State House, the committee heard testimony from a wide range of lawmaker whose differing opinions clashed. Passing on Patrick's proposal won’t stop casinos from coming to Massachusetts, said Representative Thomas Calter, a Democrat from Middleborough, where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is looking for federal approval to build a casino.
"Gaming is coming," Calter said. "The question is who is going to control it."
Representative Daniel Bosley, an ardent gambling critic who chairs the committee, pointed to the Lottery as a cautionary tale in which the state has become addicted to gaming. It began as a single daily number game and had grown into dozens of scratch tickets, Megabucks, Mega Millions, and Keno.
"We love the revenues,” said Bosley, a Democrat from North Adams, “but we hate how we get them."
Bosley's co-chair, Senator Jack Hart, also spoke about the Lottery, but the Democrat from South Boston cast it in a different light.
"We're already in the gambling industry," said Hart, who is leaning toward supporting Patrick's plan. "Do the benefits in the end outweigh the social costs?"
Meanwhile, a key Senate supporter said he may seek a binding statewide ballot question on casinos in the fall.
"It certainly would be an appropriate subject matter for a statewide referendum," said Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos of Lowell, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, adding that he believes that even casino opponents in the House might be persuaded they should give the public a chance to voice their opinion.
Panagiotakos said the issue is too important to be lost in the increasingly personal struggle that has developed between the governor and DiMasi.
Andrea Estes and Frank Phillips of the Globe staff contributed. Material from the Associated Press is included in this report.
"Casinos proposal on brink of defeat: Close verdict by panel against Patrick plan 'I can count,' governor says of today's vote"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, March 20, 2008
In a day of frenzied, behind-the-scenes wrangling, secret vote counts, and last-minute deals, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi orchestrated a narrow committee vote yesterday against Governor Deval Patrick's resort casino proposal, setting up certain defeat today by the full House of one of the governor's cornerstone economic initiatives.
The committee vote was closer than had been expected as recently as last week, as senators and Republicans on the committee swung the governor's way over the final two days. After an initial vote yesterday produced a tie and a parliamentary dispute, House leaders delayed a final vote for four hours, which gave them time to come up with something more decisive.
Ultimately, DiMasi engineered the 10-to-8 vote against Patrick's plan by changing the vote of a Republican House member, Richard J. Ross of Wrentham, at literally the last minute. After the intense arm-twisting and DiMasi's victory, the only question for today was how badly Patrick's bill will be defeated in the House.
"I can count," Patrick said last night, acknowledging the inevitable. "I can count."
Over the day, Beacon Hill was gripped by a series of confusing events played out behind closed doors. Two votes were taken by e-mail and phone yesterday and counted in House and Senate offices instead of committee rooms, after members of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies heard 13 hours of testimony Tuesday.
The vote means that when the House convenes today, it will be deciding whether to uphold or overturn the committee's negative recommendation. Overturning a committee recommendation is unusual, and DiMasi has vowed it will not happen in this instance. The Senate has generally been considered in favor of the bill.
The dispute over casinos and other issues between the governor and the House speaker has become the dominant feature of Beacon Hill politics so far in the governor's early term, and the hard feelings appeared to bubble up again yesterday.
Patrick denounced the process that resulted in the death of his initiative as "midnight maneuvers."
"It's disappointing, but not surprising," Patrick said. "The process - given the midnight maneuvers last night, and backing and forthing today - speaks for itself."
He also suggested DiMasi has not kept a promise to provide a full and fair debate in the House.
"You can't have an open debate on the House floor with the maneuvered and engineered outcome from the committee like the one we had," he added.
During a brief press conference, DiMasi defended the process as "full and fair."
"There is going to be a full debate on the governor's bill," DiMasi said.
He also denied putting any pressure on lawmakers or making promises to help secure a negative committee vote. "Not at all," he said. "No deals, no bargains, nothing."
An initial tie committee vote that would also have resulted in a negative recommendation yesterday was challenged by Patrick and his allies on the committee on parliamentary grounds. DiMasi was forced to cancel a public appearance yesterday morning as he continued to twist arms and seek sufficient votes to win a clear negative recommendation on the governor's bill.
By 4 p.m., he had persuaded a single Republican lawmaker, Ross, to change his vote.
Ross has been a key figure since Tuesday evening when, as hours of testimony continued and it became clear from private head counts that the committee was evenly divided, DiMasi entered the hearing room and sat in the front row, sternly looking over the members for about 15 minutes. Later in the night DiMasi called several legislators into his office, including Ross, to try to pressure them to change.
Ross said he had given his word to the governor last week that he would vote to send the casino legislation out favorably. "I'm sticking with the governor," Ross said Tuesday night. "I think Sal's very surprised."
Despite what DiMasi said, Ross indicated a deal was behind his change. Questioned by reporters, Ross said he switched his position from agreeing with the governor after speaking by phone with Plainridge Racecourse president Gary Piontkowski.
"It was down to the eleventh hour, the 59th minute," said Ross, a first-term House member from Wrentham who also said he met with DiMasi twice in 16 hours. "Ultimately I owe my vote to the people in the district, how they wish me to vote."
Ross said DiMasi indicated he would allow the House to consider a bill to install slot machines at the state's four racetracks, including Plainridge. Similar slots legislation has failed miserably in prior votes, but Ross said DiMasi promised he would allow it to come to the House floor again.
As events unfolded yesterday, even some lawmakers were befuddled. Legislator shuttled in and out of the office of Representative Daniel E. Bosley, the House chairman of the Economic Development Committee.
"We don't know what's going to happen," said Representative Ellen Story, Democrat of Amherst and a committee member, just before the final vote was announced. "The phone is ringing a lot."
Senator Bruce E. Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester, accused Bosley of stifling debate and making decisions without consulting committee members. The two votes were taken by e-mail, and the first vote was never officially announced. With the exception of listening to testimony, none of the committee's deliberations were conducted in public.
"I would have rather had the committee reconvene in the light of day after a marathon meeting and evaluate our options," Tarr said. ". . . I would have liked the process to have been a little bit more democratic."
But others shrugged over how the Beacon Hill gears turned on the casino debate.
"To call it arm-twisting isn't fair," said Representative Bradford Hill, an Ipswich Republican who voted in favor. "This is politics."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"House rejects casino bill; backers vow to roll again: Racetracks, unions, tribe pursue strategies"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, March 21, 2008
Led by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, the House last night resoundingly defeated Governor Deval Patrick's casino bill, 108 to 46, but racetracks, unions, and other gambling proponents vowed to keep up their lobbying blitz.
Among the gambling initiatives still bubbling on Beacon Hill were a renewed push for slot machines at the state's four racetracks, a plan for a statewide casino referendum, and maneuvers in the Senate to resurrect the governor's bill, which would have licensed three resort casinos in the state. The focus will also turn to a quest by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which is asking the federal government to allow it to build a $1 billion resort casino in Middleborough.
But yesterday the biggest spotlight remained on the House, where DiMasi strongly declared his political victory. Patrick, having given up his fight by Wednesday night, left the state for New York.
"The big money special interests lost, and the people of Massachusetts won," DiMasi said in a statement. "Members of the House withstood incredible pressure from the deep-pocketed gambling industry, unions, and the governor's office."
Patrick's spokesman Kyle Sullivan said Patrick had to leave the state to attend to undisclosed personal matters.
The defeat of Patrick's legislation has significant consequences in the debate over next year's state budget, which contains a shortfall estimated at $1.3 billion. The governor had proposed relying on $124 million of casino licensing revenues to help balance the budget. Attention will now shift to a proposal by DiMasi to raise $152 million by increasing the state's cigarette tax by $1 a pack.
After six months of impassioned debate, the votes were all but decided yesterday. The governor's legislation came to the House floor facing insurmountable odds, given an unfavorable recommendation on Wednesday from the Joint Committee on Emerging Technologies and Economic Development.
Most lawmakers leaned back in their chairs during six hours of testimony, nodding off, attempting to finish crossword puzzles, and writing text messages on their cellphones. Representative Richard Ross, who cast the deciding vote in committee Wednesday that resulted in a negative recommendation, ate from a bin full of red licorice as the debate droned on.
The vote followed nearly six hours of debate on the House floor, where members sparred over the benefits and ills of expanded gambling. They argued whether the bill had received a fair committee hearing and whether it was inevitable that Native Americans would win approval for gaming in Massachusetts.
"We have not given this bill due process," Representative Martin Walsh, a Boston Democrat, said just before DiMasi slammed down the gavel and said he was out of time. "We have not given this bill a fair hearing," Walsh said.
"We had a full and fair hearing," countered Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat who oversaw committee hearings on the governor's legislation and sparred with opponents for about an hour yesterday.
In the end, none of the leaders would answer questions after a week of press conferences and recriminations. While Patrick had left the state, DiMasi went through a back door into his office, avoiding a pack of reporters gathered in the hallway outside the House chamber.
Through his press aides, Patrick attempted to move the focus off his dramatic loss and onto some of his other proposals, including several education intiatives and a $1 billion life sciences bill that was approved yesterday by the Senate.
"Governor Patrick appreciates all the legislators who stood with us today," said Sullivan. "The governor looks forward to continuing to work with House and Senate leadership and members to push our comprehensive jobs creation and economic development agenda."
As the House went through the motions of killing Patrick's landmark bill, racetrack owners were strategizing over ways to put momentum behind a bill that the speaker has vowed to bring to the House floor for discussion. Representative David Flynn, a Bridgewater Democrat, is spearheading a proposal that would allow each of the state's four racetracks to install 2,500 slot machines. Each track would have to agree to pay a $50 million licensing fee and give the state 50 percent of the slot revenues, which would generate an estimated $400 million annually.
"It brings it right to the forefront," said Flynn, the longest-serving member in the House. "I'm the only game in town."
A similar proposal in 2006 failed 100 to 55, but track owners are arguing that chances are better now.
"I'm hoping we can all get together now and the governor can say I need the revenue now because I lost casinos, and DiMasi will agree, too," said Gary Piontkowski, president of Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville. "Am I optimistic? I'm not doing cartwheels that I think we're going to get this. But I know one thing: We won't be mudded by the casinos and the casino culture arguments."
The governor has said he would veto any legislation that specifically included slot machines at racetracks, but those statements were made as he was trying to promote his own proposal for three resort casinos. "As far as I'm concerned, that's off the table," Patrick said in a press conference earlier this week.
DiMasi has in the past been vehemently opposed to slots at the tracks, but recent actions indicate he may be more amenable. He met with Flynn several weeks ago and committed to allowing a slot machine proposal to come to the House floor in the coming weeks.
Yet Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who supported a resort casino at Suffolk Downs, does not support slots at the tracks. "A destination resort casino is much more what the city needs, rather than just slots," said Dorothy Joyce, spokeswoman for Menino.
Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos of Lowell said he plans to propose a nonbinding statewide ballot question on casinos in the fall. The move, which would need House and Senate approval, would increase public pressure on lawmakers if the vote mirrored public opinion polls that indicate that the majority of Bay State residents favor casinos.
"The House's argument has been that it's going to change the culture and character of Massachusetts," Panagiotakos, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said last night. "Well, the best to decide that is the people of Massachusetts."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
A Boston GLOBE EDITORIAL
"The House always wins"
March 21, 2008
YESTERDAY, HOUSE Speaker Salvatore DiMasi finished off a worthy casino bill that brimmed with the potential for creating 20,000 permanent jobs and $400 million in annual recurring revenue for the state. That's quite a feat for one lawmaker, even the powerful North End Democrat who calls the shots in the 160-member House.
In October, Governor Deval Patrick introduced a solid bill to license up to three resort casinos in the state. Patrick never said casinos would rank among the great temples of humankind. But he saw the importance of creating good jobs for workers whose skills don't fit well with the state's knowledge industries. The potential for new revenues was also great in a state with no appetite for broad-based tax increases. And no other industry was lining up to spend an estimated $800 million on one-time license fees. By emphasizing destination casinos, the bill sought to attract visitors and avoid convenience gambling. And it contained generous provisions to help the 1.9 percent of adults who are pathological gamblers.
But perhaps this thoughtful plan was doomed from the start. DiMasi took umbrage when the Patrick administration challenged him to drop his opposition or come up with a better revenue and job plan. DiMasi fired back with broad examples of legislative initiatives, such as stimulus packages and faster permitting rules - things the public would expect from its lawmakers under ordinary circumstances.
DiMasi, to be fair, is taking some tough stands to address an anticipated $1.3 billion budget gap, including proposals to close corporate tax loopholes and increase the cigarette tax. And he is showing leadership by backing a plan to give cities and towns total discretion to steer their employees into a lower-cost health plan used by state workers. The problem, in the end, wasn't so much that DiMasi was doing too little but that he was doing too much to kill a good casino plan.
DiMasi's lobbying tactics were also telling. He does not support the introduction of slot machines at the racetracks - a wise decision, because the model has more negatives and doesn't generate the kind of jobs and revenues associated with destination casinos. Yet while lobbying House members to kill the casino bill, he promised at least three legislators that he would not block their attempts to bring a racetrack slots bill to the House floor. And this from the leader who predicted Tuesday that casinos would "cause human damage on a grand scale."
The speaker showed his clout. But it wasn't his most productive victory.
"Steve Norton" - March 26, 2008 - Reader's Comment on The Berkshire Eagle Online:
In a speach today in Massachusetts, Secretary of Labor, Suzanne Bump referred to the 125,000 unemployed in Massachusetts; and the quality of graduates from famous institutions like Harvard and MIT,that can't find the right kind of jobs. But many of the State's unemployed lost their jobs in textile factory closings; and may not have the educational skills for Bio Science positions; but casino gaming does not even require a high school diploma, while providing a living wage, family health insurance and 401k plans.
The Governor's proposal was referring to 3 casinos with an average of 6,700 jobs each. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun employ in excess of 20,000 for 2 properties. The top 3 Atlantic City casinos, in a very competitive market and with the closest major population an hour away; would have paid Massachusetts over $500 million in casino taxes, at the proposed tax rate of 27%. Patrick only projected $400 million, and these 3 locations would have effectively been monopolies.
Today casino in Atlantic City spend $1.5 billion at Atlantic County businesses, and the industry is responsible for over 60,000 jobs for residents of 6 South Jersey counties; that had seen their glass factories close (like the MA experience with the textile industry), and the resort city had seen its once famous Boardwalk hotels closed or converted to subsidized housing.
Certainly the Life Science industry will do a lot to keep college graduates from leaving the State. But the State is gambling $1 billion to attract this new industry, while gaming companies would probably bid over $1 billion to get the 3 casino licenses. This year, two race tracks in Indiana, just paid license fees of $500 million, for the right to add 2,000 slots to each of their tracks; and in addition, pay a tax rate on slot win, that escalates from 41% to 51%.
Doesn't Massachusetts need to attract an industry, like gaming, to give those under or un-employed Palmer and Holyoke textile workers, or N,ew Bedford fishermen a new place to earn a living.
Doesn't Massachusetts need both Life Science and gaming? Any problems from gaming already exist in Massachusetts; with the most successful State Lottery, the 2 largest casinos in the US, within 2 hours of Boston and a recently expanded Rhode Island race track with slot machines. Why not bring most of that $1.1 billion back from CT and RI, while adding thousands of new jobs, billions in construction, millions in new taxes and a major new tourist attraction that will draw visitors from NY, CT, VT, NH and overseas. According to Secretary Bump, Massachusetts attracted 21 million visitors Statewide, last year. Atlantic City a community of only 40,000 attracted 34 million visitors in 2007.
"Let people vote on casino plan"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
According to your story of March 24, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth finds state residents gambled $1.1 billion out of state, garnering $233 million in tax revenue for Rhode Island and Connecticut. You report the same day on the state's struggle with a $1.3 billion spending gap.
There is a lot of opposition in the House to any type of casino proposal, and has been for years. My feeling is that gambling (though our state lottery is OK) is more a moral and personal issue. I don't believe the legislative members know their constituents' personal and moral feelings and are going with their own. This issue is too important to be left to our legislative body.
Governor Patrick's plan is sound and helpful to the state's overall economy. We are losing revenue to other states, along with the revenue we will lose from those people in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire who travel through our state to get to those Rhode Island and Connecticut casinos, or those people in Rhode Island and Connecticut who may want to experience a Massachusetts casino.
If our state government does not fix the budget problem, and I feel the casinos are a fix in the right direction, all I can see is the usual higher taxes and cut or reduced programs. Therefore, put a special referendum vote on the ballot of the next statewide vote or hold a special statewide vote and let the people decide, and no matter which way the vote goes, matter closed.
SCOTT R. THERRIEN
"Patrick: Casinos plan could still fly: Says talk not based on possibility that DiMasi will leave"
By Glen Johnson, Associated Press, The Boston Globe Online, May 8, 2008
BROOKLINE - Despite a recent high-profile defeat, legislation to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts may yet come back, Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday.
Patrick said he wasn't basing his statement on the possible departure of House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, a gambling opponent, but a confluence of other factors.
The governor told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience that an unyielding need for property tax relief, the possibility of slot machines at the state's racetracks, and ongoing efforts by the Wampanoag Indians to build their own casino will revive the discussions.
"There's a lot of interest in it, and issues that die in one session don't die a permanent death," Patrick said. "They tend to come back over time."
Under one scenario, Patrick said, casino gambling supporters might try to expand the slot machine bill to include resort-style casinos. Patrick projected that his plan for three casinos would generate at least $600 million in licensing fees, $400 million in annual tax revenues, and 20,000 permanent jobs.
DiMasi led the effort to kill the plan. He argued the revenues would be offset by social and economic costs, including lost business at other tourist destinations.
More recently, though, potential successors have been jockeying for position as DiMasi has faced allegations of ethical lapses. The speaker has said he's not leaving, and Patrick answered a flat "no" when asked whether his comments in Brookline were rooted in a suspicion the speaker would leave.
Yet on two occasions with his audience, the governor raised the prospect of a renewed gambling debate.
Patrick held fast to his support for the plan, despite criticism from one questioner, who labeled casino gambling "predatory." The governor said that he once had doubts about casinos, but that he felt the gains outweighed the costs.
"It may yet come back in the Legislature," he said of his plan.
Later, when asked about how to provide permanent property tax relief, the governor complained that the House had rejected four ideas he proposed.
After ticking off his ideas for 1 percent increases in the meals and hotels taxes, as well as closing a telecommunications tax loophole, he said, "Resort casinos have been rejected for the time being."
A DiMasi spokeswoman declined to comment.
"Death threats targeted DiMasi: Guard provided amid casino fight"
By Frank Phillips, (Boston) Globe Staff, May 14, 2008
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was given State Police protection at his North End home after he received what authorities felt was a credible death threat during the highly charged debate over casino gambling, said three people who have been briefed on the threat and the State Police response.
During two separate periods - each spanning two weeks during March and early April - police assigned an undercover officer to stand watch outside DiMasi's North End condominium, because of threats contained in an anonymous letter sent to his State House office and overheard in a conversation, said the sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The sources would not release details about the overheard conversation, such as where it occurred and who was involved. But they said one of the parties in the conversation mentioned specific details of DiMasi's private life, including the kind of dog he has and when he walks it.
Although the gambling issue was never specifically discussed in either case, the threats were made as DiMasi was publicly working to block Governor Deval Patrick's bid to license three casinos in the state. Patrick's proposal ultimately failed.
An undercover officer was assigned to remain outside DiMasi's home from late afternoon each day until 9:30 the next morning during both two-week periods, the sources said.
Captain Barry O'Brien, a State Police spokesman, confirmed that the threats against DiMasi were made and that an investigation is underway. O'Brien would not confirm that protection was provided to the speaker.
"We are not inclined to discuss the nature or the type of protection we would provide in the course of an investigation like this," O'Brien said.
DiMasi declined to have the police protection at his State House office. Security at the entrances of the building scan for weapons, and a State Police officer sits down the hall from the speaker's office outside the governor's office. Police had recommended a 24-hour detail, the sources said.
While DiMasi's office often gets nasty letters and phone calls, the sources, who read the letter and know the details of the reported conversation, said the threats in both cases were specific enough to prompt the speaker and his staff to contact the State Police.
The letter, which contained a specific threat to his life, came several weeks before the House vote on casinos. It warned the speaker that the writer knew where "you hang," the sources said.
Those speaking in the overheard conversation, which took place in a public facility a day or two after the casino vote, were quoted as saying that unspecified actions by the speaker were "unacceptable," according to the sources.
One of the parties in the conversation claimed to know DiMasi's daily habits, such as his hours for walking his dog, exactly where he lives, and where he goes on weekends, according to the sources. What concerned DiMasi and State Police were the specifics about his private life, the sources said.
DiMasi, who was in the Worcester area on official business yesterday, declined to comment.
The casino bill dominated the debate on Beacon Hill for several months and set off passion on both sides. A coalition of liberals, social conservatives, civic groups, and religious organizations argued strongly against legalized gambling. Casino advocates, including labor unions and racetrack and casino operators and developers, accused DiMasi and the House leadership of turning their backs on them.
Patrick had touted the casino plan as an economic development project that would generate thousands of union jobs.
"Speaker DiMasi says yes to casino referendum"
By Scott Van Voorhis, Wednesday, May 21, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Local Politics
House Speaker Sal DiMasi, after orchestrating a lopsided defeat in March of a proposal to bring resort casinos to the Bay State, now says he supports putting gambling on the fall ballot.
DiMasi’s comments, in a statement sent out this morning to reporters, come as the Senate considers attaching casino and slot machine amendments to its proposed budget.
DiMasi (D-North End) warned that such a move could create a budget impasse with the House, which has already voted against expanded gambling. Instead, DiMasi said he will support as a “compromise” a proposal by state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell) to put the question before voters this fall.
“The budget is the most important bill we debate each year and is far too significant to be bogged down in these kinds of major, controversial public policy debates,” DiMasi said in a statement. “Rather than have our budget negotiations stall over a potential casino impasse, I suggest we put this before the voters in a nonbinding referendum and reconsider it next year.”
The statement by the House leader is the first indication that he might be willing to consider a deal on expanded gambling after years of strong opposition to slot machine and casino proposals.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/politics/view.bg?articleid=1095516
"DiMasi softens stance on casino bill"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
Thursday, May 22, 2008
BOSTON — House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said yesterday he'd support a proposal to let residents cast a nonbinding vote this fall on whether to allow casino gambling in Massachusetts.
DiMasi, a staunch casino gambling opponent, also said he'd be willing to let lawmakers reconsider the gambling issue next year.
The shift by DiMasi revives the casino gambling debate just two months after House lawmakers overwhelmingly defeated the plan by Gov. Deval L. Patrick to license three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts.
Patrick projected that his plan for three casinos would generate at least $600 million in licensing fees, $400 million in annual tax revenues and 20,000 permanent jobs.
DiMasi issued the statement just hours before the Senate began debate on a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have added Patrick's casino plan to their version of the state budget.
Senate Republicans filed the amendment to force a debate on casinos in the Senate, which has traditionally been more open to the idea but didn't get a chance to debate Patrick's plan.
DiMasi said he was worried that the amendment could create a budget impasse. He said he would instead support a proposal by Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, to put a nonbinding casino question on the fall ballot. Panagiotakos supports casinos.
"The House made its views on casinos clear in May. But rather than have our budget negotiations stall over a potential casino impasse, I suggest we put this before the voters in a nonbinding referendum question and reconsider it next year," DiMasi said in a written statement.
Later yesterday, the Senate voted 29-9 to create a joint House-Senate committee to explore the casino issue instead of adopting the casino amendment. During debate, Republicans said the Senate should take the chance to have a full discussion of the casino plan.
"I suggest we deal with this issue. We deal with it now," said Sen. Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester. "We need to be counted on this issue."
But others said the Senate's massive $28 billion state budget plan was no place for a debate on the complex issue of casino gambling. Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Northampton, said it made more sense for the Senate to create the joint casino gambling committee.
"We will neither do justice with this issue if we continue this debate today and we will really compromise the rest of the budget debate," Rosenberg said.
Gambling critics urged the Senate to reject both the casino plan and the temptation to study it more.
"This is a Pandora's Box," said state Sen. Robert O'Leary, of Barnstable. "It will change the character of Massachusetts in a way that we will come to regret."
Patrick was not immediately available for comment on DiMasi's statement or the Senate vote.
Patrick's Housing and Economic Development Secretary Dan O'Connell issued a written statement saying repeated polls have already shown public support for the governor's casino proposal.
"With all due respect to the speaker, we feel that a non-binding referendum may not be the best course of action at this time," O'Connell said. "The House's opposition to the proposal has settled the question for this legislative session."
In March, House lawmakers voted 106-48 to send Patrick's bill to a study committee, effectively defeating it and ensuring it could not come back up for debate for the rest of the year. The move also blocked the Senate from debating the bill.
After the defeat in the House, Patrick turned his attention to other priorities — including initiatives to expand the life sciences and renewable energy industries — although he hadn't given up completely on the casino plan.
Earlier this month, Patrick told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience that the plan "may yet come back in the Legislature" but offered few details at the time.
Patrick has also pointed out that the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe are moving ahead with plans to build their own casino in Middleborough. He argues the state could lose hundreds of millions in fees and revenues if it doesn't move quickly to license casinos.
DiMasi, however, repeatedly warned of bringing a "casino culture" to Massachusetts. He has argued that expanded gambling would drain revenues from other businesses and increase personal bankruptcies, petty crimes and other social ills.
Supporters of a second bill to license 2,500 slot machines at the state's four race tracks said they received a promise from DiMasi to allow the bill to come to the floor of the House for a debate this year. The bill has yet to surface.
A (Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Gambling at the polls"
May 23, 2008
IN MARCH, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi smothered the Patrick administration's bill to license up to three resort casinos in Massachusetts. Now, he is compounding his error with an unwieldy proposal to put Patrick's casino gambling bill on the ballot as a nonbinding initiative.
Such a ballot question would tell lawmakers little of any value. Polls already show that most state residents support casino gambling in the abstract. Voters were looking for legislators to debate specific aspects of the governor's bill. How many casinos? Where? Under what kind of oversight? And where would casino tax revenues go? But DiMasi stifled such debate, in the course of twisting arms to keep the bill from passing the House or even receiving a favorable committee report.
The ballot ploy might help deflect the anger of pro-casino forces, especially organized labor. But it confuses everyone else.
DiMasi says he offered the ballot initiative as a compromise measure to the Senate, where a group of Republicans had introduced a pro-casino amendment to the state budget. Yet that amendment was soundly defeated a short time later. Now it is the ballot question proposal that is distracting lawmakers from their budget deliberations.
If the ballot question goes forward, further commotion is almost guaranteed, from casino industry sharpies and from opponents of casino gambling, all of whom are sure to flood the airwaves with exaggerated claims. Subterfuge is also no stranger to these campaigns. Last year, Globe reporter Sean Murphy exposed the activities of casino executives who were negotiating to open a Mashpee Wampanoag casino in Middleborough while spending millions of dollars to defeat a potential rival Indian casino in Rhode Island on the grounds that such establishments weaken the social fabric of society.
This page supported Patrick's casino plan, because it had the potential to provide 20,000 permanent jobs and $400 million in annual revenue in a state that has no appetite for broad-based tax increases.
But Patrick's bill was not the last word on how the revenues should be used. He wants to spend the money for transportation upgrades and to provide property tax relief in the form of an income tax credit. But there could be wiser uses for the money, such as education or healthcare. No ballot campaign can resolve complexities like these.
All these questions could be explored further if Patrick reintroduces his casino bill next year. Maybe DiMasi will even see that there is no substitute for serious legislative debate.
"Patrick says he would negotiate with tribe over a casino: Says Wampanoag situation being monitored closely"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, June 11, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday that he is closely monitoring the Mashpee Wampanoags' plans for an Indian casino in Middleborough and would be prepared to negotiate with the tribe if it formally requests a casino pact with the state.
"They have expressed an interest in working with us when the time comes," Patrick said in response to questions from reporters. "But, no, there's no negotiation happening yet."
Patrick lost a bid this year in the Legislature to license three casinos in Massachusetts. With that defeat, the focus for gambling has shifted to the tribe's plans, which have been filed as an application with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. It has previously been disclosed that the state and tribe have engaged in preliminary talks; in coming months they have the potential to become more serious.
The tribe wants to build a $1 billion resort casino on property it owns in Middleborough. Before it can do that, the federal government must approve its application to place the land in a federal trust, a process that can take months or years.
The state could be a partner in the development and get a cut of the proceeds if the tribe signs an agreement with Massachusetts officials and wins approval from the Legislature. The tribe has an incentive to work with the state and sign a compact, because it could offer a full-scale, "class three" casino with table games and Las Vegas-style slot machines, according to Bureau of Indian Affairs rules.
The tribe can proceed on its own after winning federal trust status for the land and the property effectively becomes sovereign territory. But in that case, the tribe would offer only "class two" bingo-style slot machines, which are not as popular with gamblers and not as lucrative for casino operators. The state would probably be shut out of a share of gambling proceeds under that scenario. The tribe and the state could begin negotiations now, but any agreement would not go into effect until the tribe has sovereign land.
A source who has been briefed by the tribe said the Mashpee Wampanoag may decide to ask the state to enter more formal negotiations. "This has always been moving along steadily, and it will all rapidly pick up speed over the next month or two," the source said. "The Legislature will have this before them next year."
Patrick administration officials are meeting with the tribe today to discuss transportation issues around their site as part of the federal and state review of impacts.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Merging of tracks may advance casino: Deal is finally hammered out"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, August 14, 2008
Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park race tracks finalized a deal yesterday to form a partnership that will reshape the state's racing industry and could have a dramatic impact on the debate over legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts.
After nearly two years of contentious negotiations, the colorful owners of the two tracks came to terms in an effort to project a unified front that could help them obtain a lucrative license to open a resort casino.
"We have been working on this kind of agreement for a while, but the time has been well spent, because we now have gotten it right," Richard Fields, principal owner of Suffolk Downs, said in a statement. "We have today an excellent understanding that will . . . commit the joint resources of our companies to the goal of a premium resort-style casino which will bring new jobs to the area."
Details of the agreement were not made public. But one person briefed on the partnership said it spells out several different scenarios, including a massive resort-style casino, slot machines at the tracks, and a new commercial development. Any gambling expansion would hinge on state approval.
Under any scenario, Suffolk Downs would have an option to purchase Wonderland. The two entities will share in any financial benefit from future development at either site, but those terms vary, depending on what is built, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement, who requested anonymity because the details have not been made public.
Until that purchase option is exercised, both properties will be run separately. The exact financial terms are unclear, but Wonderland will use some of the proceeds from the deal to immediately pay the nearly $800,000 in taxes it owes the city of Revere, according to two people briefed on the terms of the deal.
While Wonderland will remain open for now, it is still unclear what will happen to the 73-year-old Revere dogtrack over the long term.
In the statement announcing the deal, track owners made a point of saying that horse racing would continue at Suffolk Downs, located in East Boston, but made no commitment whether dog racing would continue at Wonderland.
Wonderland may remain open until a decision is made by state officials about granting slot machine licenses to racetracks. If that bid fails, the property could be converted into a commercial or residential development.
Another reason for not making any commitments on Wonderland is a question on November ballots that could ban dog racing in the state and would cause Wonderland to shut down if it passes.
"Right now it's business as usual," Wonderland owner Charles Sarkis said in an interview yesterday. "I can't tell you what it will look like in six months, because I don't know what's going to happen."
Combining the two tracks could also make a clearer case for a casino license in Greater Boston, if Governor Deval Patrick decides in January to refile his casino legislation. In March, the Legislature rejected the governor's proposal to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts.
The two tracks, located just 2 miles apart, had been positioning themselves for the same casino license. Their competition became a distraction during the debate and may have contributed to the proposal's defeat. Administration officials and supportive legislators appealed to track owners several times last year to form a partnership, because their squabbling was splintering support for resort casinos.
"Everyone's getting on the same page here," said Representative Brian Wallace, a South Boston Democrat and a top casino advocate. "Everything is marching along toward casinos."
Suffolk Downs and Wonderland combined spent nearly one-third of the $1.3 million spent last year on casino lobbyists. Suffolk Downs was seen as the leading contender for a Boston-area casino, with a politically connected ownership group and a large tract of land within minutes of Logan International Airport.
Wonderland has a much smaller plot of land - 35 acres, compared with 167 acres at Suffolk - but was aggressive in its effort to be seen as a player in the casino debate.
Its owners held casino partnership discussions with a number of investors, including Donald Trump, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard, as well as Suffolk Downs.
Sarkis and Fields have been negotiating for nearly two years - meeting several times at Abe and Louie's, one of several dozen restaurants that Sarkis owns - but issues have come up each time to halt the talks.
Last November the two men agreed on terms before other Suffolk officials opted out because they thought the agreement was too generous to Sarkis.
Previous discussions involved bringing Sarkis into a casino development at Suffolk, while tearing down the Wonderland track and redeveloping that site as a hotel or something unrelated to the casino.
Talks began to heat up again about three weeks ago, and Sarkis and Fields had an amicable meal at Abe and Louie's. "At some point, it began to make sense for the both of us," Sarkis said.
"It just made sense to say, 'OK, we can't get anything done in the Legislature. Maybe just speaking with one [voice] is the way to go.' "
Sarkis said he also had numerous discussions about a deal with Joseph O'Donnell, a wealthy concessionaire who is one of the main owners of Suffolk Downs.
O'Donnell and Fields did not respond yesterday to requests for comment.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"A closer look at casinos"
August 15, 2008
THE HOUSE may have killed Governor Patrick's casino gambling bill in March, but it didn't disprove the evidence that the licensing of three resort casinos would be a net benefit for Massachusetts. The latest forensic report comes from Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent research firm, which estimates Patrick's plan would generate about $1.5 billion in gross gambling revenues during the first year of operation.
Last winter's raucous debate on the issue pitted Patrick, a seemingly reluctant convert to the cause of casino gambling, against House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a passionate foe of casinos. At times, each side overstated its case. The Patrick administration exaggerated the potential number of construction jobs. DiMasi and casino opponents magnified the likely social costs, including compulsive gambling. But this month's Spectrum study and an earlier independent study sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce provide each side with plenty of objective analysis to consider. And with the Legislature out of formal session until January, members have plenty of time to digest the facts.
The Spectrum study supports the administration's basic assumption that casino gambling, if tightly regulated, deserves a place in the state's economy. Three well-placed destination casinos would attract $650 million to $900 million in casino spending from neighboring states and recover at least half of the $1.1 billion now spent by Massachusetts residents on casinos in Connecticut and Rhode Island, according to the study. The state could expect nearly $600 million in annual casino-related tax revenue, including meals and hotel taxes, and the creation of 20,000 new jobs. Social impacts, including traffic and other disruptions, are legitimate concerns. But they could be minimized with proper planning.
Mind the details
Patrick got the basics right, the report suggests. He sought to steer clear of undercapitalized slot machine parlors at racetracks and recognized the importance of including an Indian casino in his planning.
But the landscape keeps shifting. This week, for example, Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park formed a partnership that will be looking to build a resort-style casino in Boston. Such an urban casino could serve the city's convention trade. But it could also attract too many local "convenience" and problem gamblers instead of a broader and healthier demographic in search of destination casino amenities such as shows and restaurants.
If Patrick has any hope to convince the Legislature that casinos belong in Massachusetts, then he must gain lawmakers' confidence in his ability to negotiate the toughest deal with wily casino developers. The Spectrum study makes the essential point that public officials will enjoy a negotiating advantage only during the competitive bidding stage when industry officials will be anxious to prove that their presence will benefit the public. The study makes a powerful case that the state should insist up front on financial plans that advance job training and promote tourism and the convention business over convenience gambling. State officials should also stand firm on the need to protect the lottery, up to and including a requirement that casinos indemnify the lottery against any losses from casino competition.
Beware of false promises
The report issues another important warning - about casino operators who seek to win licenses by offering more than the proposed 27 percent tax rate on gambling proceeds set by the Patrick administration. Offers of higher rates are often a smokescreen for fewer jobs and other public benefits. When dealing with casinos, the most important skill is always to know when to walk away from the table.
The report's authors know all the angles played by casino developers. But the Patrick administration will need to show plenty of political skill to persuade DiMasi and other opponents that destination casinos can still be a good deal for Massachusetts. It's clear that Patrick's plan to use the tax proceeds from casino gambling for transportation infrastructure and modest property tax relief didn't resonate with the House. He will need a new strategy next year.
There are many unmet needs in state government, so Patrick has his pick of ways to show how the extra revenue would benefit Massachusetts. In June, for instance, he unveiled his Readiness Project - a major redesign of the state's public education system. The costs are still being worked out. But the prospect of generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually for education could alter the casino debate.
Patrick's casino effort failed this year, but a bill that offers clear benefits for Massachusetts while imposing strict discipline on casino developers might be the strong hand in 2009.
"We'd like to start the negotiations and get the ball rolling." - Shawn W. Hendricks Sr., Mashpee Wampanoag chairman.
"Tribe wants talks on casino: Wampanoags seeking deal with governor"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, September 3, 2008
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is planning to formally ask Governor Deval Patrick today to negotiate a compact for a $1 billion resort casino in Middleborough, an overture that could reignite the gambling debate and eventually clear the way for the state's first casino.
The tribe has already been pursuing a casino through a federal Department of the Interior application. But striking a deal with the state would probably speed approval and allow the tribe to offer bigger jackpots and more games, including blackjack and craps, while giving the state a share of casino revenues.
"We'd like to start the negotiations and get the ball rolling," tribal chairman Shawn W. Hendricks Sr. said yesterday in an interview. "I see no reason why the state wouldn't sit and talk with us."
Tribal officials are hoping to negotiate a deal with the state over the next several months that, if the necessary approvals from the federal government come through, could allow the tribe to start construction on a massive casino as early as spring. It would be similar to the deals struck by Connecticut for the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. The billions earned by those casinos have proved to be alluring for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, as well as Patrick and some other Massachusetts officials who see legalized gam bling as a way to help pay for state needs such as road repairs.
The tribe will deliver a seven-page letter, which has been expected for several months and was obtained yesterday by the Globe, to the governor today with the request that negotiations begin "at the earliest mutually convenient date."
The move could give Patrick fresh ammunition if he decides to revive his effort to persuade the Legislature to license three casinos in Massachusetts. Patrick has contended that since the federal government might approve the tribe's casino regardless of the state's position, Massachusetts might as well embrace gambling, control the business, and reap a share for state coffers.
Administration officials declined to comment yesterday before seeing the letter.
Under the terms of the federal Indian Gaming Act, the tribe cannot force the state to begin negotiations because it does not have its federal lands taken into trust. The governor was hesitant in June about beginning negotiations until the tribe won placement of its land in federal trust.
"It doesn't start until they say it starts," Patrick said. "And there's not a lot of point in starting until the land-in-trust process is finished. . . . They have expressed an interest in working with us when the time comes."
Any deal between the tribe and the governor would probably also need the approval of the Legislature, so the tribe is also sending the letter to Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
The tribe won federal recognition last year, which set it on course to build a resort casino with 4,000 slot machines, game tables, a 1,500-room hotel, and a host of amenities including a golf course.
Achieving the next step, getting federal approval to place its land in trust, can take several years, but tribal officials think it is on course for approval in the first or second quarter of 2009, according to the letter.
Compact negotiations can become complex and include discussions over who has jurisdiction over police and fire services on the property and how traffic would be handled. If a compact is signed, the tribe said it would upgrade Route 44, a $170 million expense.
Most significantly, the negotiations would determine what percentage of slot revenues the state would receive. When Connecticut negotiated with its tribes in the early 1990s, the Indians agreed to pay the state 25 percent of slot machine revenue.
For Patrick and the Legislature, choosing not to negotiate with the tribe could carry risks.
The Mashpees say in the letter that, even if the state does not approve a deal, it plans to pursue its federal rights under the Indian Gaming Act to develop a casino with bingo-style slots. Those slots, called lass two machines, look similar to regular slot machines but are not as popular with gamblers and not as lucrative for casino operators. Upgrading to better machines would require state approval.
"No matter what ultimately happens with the negotiations, please know that it is the tribe's intent to operate America's most successful casino resort in Middleborough," Hendricks wrote in the letter. "We hope that we can do so in a manner which benefits all of us to the fullest extent possible."
Patrick filed legislation last year that would have licensed three casinos in Massachusetts, creating jobs and bringing in state revenue. His legislation was voted down by the House in March, but the governor is expected to file new legislation when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Still, there are multiple variables that could spell trouble for the tribe.
The Globe reported last week that slot revenues at the two Connecticut casinos and two Rhode Island slot parlors are down over last year, despite adding 1,300 slot machines in the last year. Slot revenues are also down nationally, according to a recent report from the American Gaming Association.
Hendricks, the tribal chairman, said yesterday in an interview that he was not concerned about declining slot revenues and downplayed the argument that New England's gambling market was saturated.
"It's the economy," he said. "We're not going to stop building houses just because the real estate market is down."
Another potential hitch is a US Supreme Court case that could prohibit further land-into-trust approvals. The case, which will be heard in November, stems from a dispute in Rhode Island over the Narragansett tribe's claim of 31-acres in Charlestown, R.I.
In a case signed onto by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the state of Rhode Island contends that federal law prevents the US government from taking land into trust for tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Re- organization Act. The Narragansett tribe was federally recognized in 1983.
The First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rejected the state's claim in July, but the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Governor warns mayors of cuts: Gov. Deval L. Patrick is preparing to unveil next week hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency cuts to the state's $28.2 billion budget for this fiscal year.", By DAN RING, email@example.com, Posted by dmuse October 11, 2008, 5:48 AM, The Springfield Republican Online Newspaper.
BOSTON - Gov. Deval L. Patrick set the stage Friday for possible cuts in state aid during an extraordinary meeting with Bay State mayors on the state's emerging fiscal crisis.
With stock market losses reducing capital gains taxes and other state revenues down, Patrick is preparing to unveil next week hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency cuts to the state's $28.2 billion budget for this fiscal year.
During a meeting in the governor's office Friday, Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray assured mayors there are no current plans to slash state aid and that it would occur only as a last resort.
"Given the volatility of the economy ... no one can guarantee what is going to happen," Murray said after the meeting.
Chicopee Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette and Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan said the gist of the meeting was that municipal officials must prepare for cuts in state assistance, either during this fiscal year or for next year.
The men were among 27 mayors and municipal leaders attending the meeting. Ten listened in on a conference call.
Bissonnette said he is preparing for a cut in state aid to Chicopee of 7 percent, or $5 million.
"This is not fooling around," Bissonnette said. "This is serious business."
Chicopee's $150 million budget includes $70 million in state assistance. Bissonnette said a 7 percent cut would almost certainly mean laying off city workers.
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said he appreciates Patrick will attempt to "hold harmless" state aid, but he is ready for possible mid-year cuts this fiscal year and then deep cuts for the fiscal year that starts July 1 next year.
"I hope I'm wrong," Sarno said, "(but) I have to err on the side of caution."
Springfield's $529 million budget is built on more than $310 million in state aid.
Sullivan said he wanted to commend the governor for launching a difficult discussion and laying the groundwork for state aid cuts.
Holyoke's $139 million budget is supported by $81 million in state aid.
Leaders of state colleges and the University of Massachusetts are also girding for a possible 5.6 percent cut next week.
William F. Messner, president of Holyoke Community College, said on Friday he is preparing for a 5.6 percent emergency cut, or $1.3 million.
Messner said he will ask the college board of trustees on Oct. 28 to raise student fees by $60 for the semester that starts in January. That would generate $300,000 and still leave $1 million in cuts to be dealt with.
The fee hike would amount to 4 percent over the current $1,400 that full-time students pay in tuition and fees for a semester, Messner said. The hike would allow the college to keep adjunct faculty who are critical for many programs, he said.
The cuts come as the Holyoke college's enrollment of 6,700 full- and part-time students is up by between 10 and 15 percent from five years ago, Messner said.
Presidents of Westfield State College and Springfield Technical Community College were unavailable Friday.
Greenfield Community College President Robert L. Pura said he will do everything he can to avoid raising student fees for the next semester. However, fees will definitely go up in the fall of next year, Pura said.
Edward F. Blaguszewski, spokesman for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said campus leaders are planning for cuts and discussing options, but he didn't want to be specific.
The five-campus university system and state and community colleges already saw their budgets cut this year when Patrick vetoed money from their budgets and state legislators sustained the vetoes.
During the meeting, Patrick spoke first, then left Murray in his place. Murray said layoffs of state employees will be announced next week when Patrick details specific emergency cuts.
Patrick still needs legislative approval to cut state aid and the courts. He currently can unilaterally impose emergency cuts to the executive branch.
Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, said he expects legislators will vote to give Patrick emergency powers to cut state aid to communities.
Municipal leaders should "hope for the best and plan for the worst," Bosley said.
310 million in state funding for Springfield, the cesspool of Massachusetts? Just what are they doing with that money, since the city only seems to get worse? Talk about wasting tax dollars. The other cities don't receive a third of that amount and do far better? Who is running Springfield anyway???
Posted on 10/11/08 at 8:01AM / Footer
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial, Friday, October 24, 2008
The economic crisis the state and nation are confronting is so complex that good news usually comes with a bad side. Yes, it is good, for example, that Americans appear to be cutting down on credit card expenses and spending more wisely. However, Americans are expected to spend less money on Christmas gifts this year which will hurt businesses — and slow the economy. Aggravating.
The Massachusetts lottery, which used to be able to count on a consistent base of ticket purchases that would often increase during the course of a year, is anticipating a 1.5 percent drop in lottery revenues in 2008. The good news, observes state treasurer and lottery head man Tim Cahill, is that residents are being smart and not trying to gamble their way out of economic problems. The bad news, Mr. Cahill also points out, is that this decline has a tangible impact on state revenues. The net loss to the financially strapped state is expected to be about $17 million.
The Lottery has been an important component in funding for education and other programs, and that money will either have to come out of the rainy day fund or programs will have to be trimmed or eliminated. It is unseemly to generate state revenues from the vices of residents, and if the state becomes as addicted to its gambling revenues as gamblers are to their games, the same fate may befall the state as befalls gamblers whose luck has run out.
The theory that gambling was somehow immune from economic slowdowns or would even benefit from them has been disproved, here and in Connecticut, where revenue is down at the state's two casinos. The state's economic problems may inspire calls for the resurrection of the governor's three-casino plan but it should do just the opposite. Whether the times are good or bad, gambling is a dangerous way to fund government.
William McDermott wrote the tribe's constitution.
"In the seat of Wampanoags' power: Lawyer a strong force in tribe's bid for casino"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, October 26, 2008
MASHPEE - As a founding father of the modern Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, lawyer William A. McDermott Jr. cuts an unlikely figure.
He is not a member of the tribe, nor even a Native American. But the heavy-set, glad-handing Dorchester political operative is arguably the single most powerful figure in the fractured Mashpee Wampanoag government.
He wrote the Mashpee Wampanoag constitution. He engineered the defeat of a hostile tribal council candidate. He even helped banish dissenters from the annual powwow.
And above all, he is using political skills honed in the wards of Boston and Chelsea to keep the tribal government functioning during its quest for a $1 billion resort casino in Middleborough.
Even McDermott's old friends are surprised at the role he has developed as the tribe's powerful enforcer.
"Billy's gainfully employed? That's a good thing," joked Daniel F. Pokaski, chairman of the Boston Licensing Board. "I'm not sure how much experience he has with Indian tribes, but I hope they are paying him well."
Critics within the tribe say McDermott is doing the bidding of the wealthy international gambling executives who have invested more than $10 million into the tribe's casino plans.
"McDermott is running the show, sent here by the investors - and getting a good piece of the pie, too, I assume," said Amelia Bingham, a critic of the 13-member Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council whose "shunning" from tribal activities was coordinated by McDermott.
But McDermott's defenders say he always puts the tribe's interests first.
"His commitment to the tribe is impeccable, without suspicion," said Gayle Andrews, a tribal member and spokeswoman for the tribal council. "He's always there for the tribe."
McDermott, 62, declined requests to comment. Scott Ferson, who heads a Boston public relations firm hired by the tribe, said McDermott has a contract with the tribe and is paid undisclosed fees. Nearly all of the tribe's budget, according to publicly filed financial records through 2005, is funded by payments from the tribe's outside investors, a partnership that includes gambling executives Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman.
His role is becoming increasingly important now that the tribe has formally asked Governor Deval Patrick to begin negotiations for an agreement. Such a pact under federal law terms would exchange the state's blessing for a casino for a state share of the winnings. Patrick rejected the overture as premature, but negotiations may be months away.
Maintaining a veneer of trust in the tribe and its billion-dollar gambling enterprise is not always easy. The Mashpee Wampanoag government has been beset by negative news that has highlighted the high degree of internal turmoil and a lack of professional administrators at the helm.
Glenn Marshall, the former tribal chairman, resigned last year after admitting he lied about details of his military career and following disclosure of a 1981 rape conviction. His successor, Shawn Hendricks, is embroiled in a messy divorce. He admitted in court to using steroids and his wife had a restraining order against him for several months this year.
Meanwhile, the finances of the tribal council remain under the scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service and the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley after some tribal members made allegations of money being misused or missing. McDermott is scrambling to get the tribe's required financial filings as a public charity up to date.
When visited unannounced at his law office in West Roxbury, McDermott declined to comment.
A specialist in state election law, McDermott has counseled and befriended many Democratic politicians, including US Representatives William Delahunt and Stephen Lynch. He grew up in Savin Hill, earned his law degree at Suffolk University, and learned his trade as a Boston election commissioner. He later served on the Boston Redevelopment Board, and then as city lawyer in Chelsea.
In 1993, he worked on the losing mayoral campaign of one of his Savin Hill neighbors, James T. Brett.
"There's no one better with numbers - he's the legend, the best," said Brett, president of the New England Council, which promotes economic growth. "You ask him how many voters in Ward 13, precinct 10, and he knows it off the top of his head."
Edward Jesser, a political consultant, said he and McDermott on many occasions have amiably whiled away the evening hours and finally closed the bar of Doyle's pub in Jamaica Plain. "He's smart and works hard, and he's great company, too," he said.
Now, after almost 35 years of slogging it in places where Indians were thought to be a baseball team from Cleveland, he has landed deep-pocket clients that generate a steady stream of work.
And it means McDermott can claim something none of his Dorchester peers can. The Mashpee Wampanoag are a sovereign nation, with its own constitution, and McDermott was one of the two lawyers who drafted it. While that may not put him on a par with John Adams, who drafted the Massachusetts constitution, it does give him broad powers as a top specialist on tribal government affairs.
His work for the tribe dates at least to 2002, when he persuaded the town of Mashpee to support the Wampanoags' bid for federal recognition as a tribe. In exchange, the tribal council agreed not to open a casino in the Cape Cod town.
"That agreement is as much his as anyone's," recalled Mashpee Selectman John Cahalane, one of the town negotiators.
He helped the tribe stay on the path to toward a casino in 2005, when tribal member Paula Peters, a casino skeptic, declared herself a candidate for the post of tribal chairwoman.
Detroit businessman Herbert Strather, who at the time was the primary outside investor in the casino deal, worried in a letter to the tribe that his team would be unable to work with Peters.
McDermott found a way to scuttle her bid.
Using his knowledge of the tribal constitution that he had written, he made the case that Peters could not prove she attended prior tribal council meetings. On the technicality, her name was removed from the ballot five days before the election.
Peter's lawyer said she had been "ambushed." But the casino investors were satisfied.
In 2006, tribal members Amelia and Stephen Bingham sued the tribe in Barnstable Superior Court for access to records of the tribe's deal with the developers. A state court judge ruled he had no authority in the affairs of a sovereign Indian nation. The records remained out of public view.
Even in victory, however, McDermott wrote to the tribe's chairman explaining the tribal council could forbid Bingham, 85, and her son, Stephen, from voting, running for office, attending meetings - even going to the annual powwow, the biggest social event of the year.
When 100 tribe members voted to rescind the shunning order, McDermott said that was not permitted under the constitution, calling such a vote an impermissible challenge to the tribe's "political integrity."
Sean Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Mohegan Tribe leases site in Palmer for casino"
By Thomas Grillo, Friday, November 14, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Business & Markets
The Mohegan Tribe is gambling that the Legislature will approve casinos in the Bay State next year. The Connecticut-based tribe has leased 152 acres in Palmer, the potential site of a resort casino.
“If legislators pass a measure that would allow gambling, we believe Palmer is an exceptional site, and we’d be proud to develop and bring our product to the people of Massachusetts,” said Charles Bunnell, the tribe’s chief of staff.
cw2 Securing the land is the next step in getting a foothold in Western Massachusetts. Earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal for three resort casinos was rejected by House Speaker Sal DiMasi (D-North End) and other House members.
Mohegan’s lease with Northeast Realty Associates LLC is for 50 years with an option to extend for another 49 years. It includes an option to purchase the property in the future.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view.bg?articleid=1132301
"Casino advocates roll dice again: But new bill lacks key House support"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, January 14, 2009
Several state lawmakers, backed by politically powerful labor unions, are planning to file a casino bill today that is based on the failed gambling legislation that Governor Deval Patrick championed last year.
But the bill's fate appears highly uncertain. It does not have the backing of the governor this time around, at least not yet, nor does it have the endorsement of any prominent lawmakers in the House.
The legislation, a five-page summary of which was obtained by the Globe, is being sponsored by Representatives Brian Wallace and Martin Walsh and Senator Joan Menard.
"We need the money and the jobs," Wallace said. "We're talking thousands of jobs and millions of dollars, and, in this economy, that's the selling piece."
He said the AFL-CIO was backing the bill, but had not yet tried to garner support among top House and Senate lawmakers.
"We support this bill because it creates jobs and revenues and that's what we need in this Commonwealth," said Robert Haynes, president of the AFL-CIO.
Patrick's legislation last year, which would have licensed three casinos around the state, dominated Beacon Hill for months. But the governor has been less enthusiastic about reviving the debate, and the gambling industry, often seen as being recession-proof, has struggled recently.
Patrick declined to comment yesterday through his spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, and the governor was noncommittal last week about whether he would push for licensing casinos again.
"I'm not going to file something that isn't going anywhere," he said in an interview. "There's a conversation there we have to have."
Patrick said in the interview that he was not deterred by the economic woes in the gambling industry, saying that other businesses are going through similar problems.
The new legislation would allow for one casino in Suffolk, Hampden, and Bristol counties. Special preference would be given to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which is trying to build a casino in Middleborough using its rights as a federally recognized tribe.
In a nod to the declining revenue in the industry, the 10-year casino licenses would cost $225 million apiece, compared with an open-ended bidding process that Patrick estimated would bring $200 million to $300 million. Payments would be spread over three years, rather than all up front.
Developers would also have to sign an agreement with the host community, as well as gain approval from the legislative bodies of two-thirds of the communities in the county.
The legislation would require 27 percent of gross revenue to go to the state.
The owners of Suffolk Downs, which was the front-runner to build a casino in the Boston area, remain interested in a license and strengthened their position several months ago by forming a partnership with Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere.
They are expected to back the new legislation.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, who was the chief stumbling block to the governor's bill last year, has not changed his position on the issue, his spokesman, David Guarino, said yesterday. DiMasi declined to comment on the new legislation, which Guarino said he had not seen.
Senate President Therese Murray did not rule out a casino debate and suggested the state should work with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. But she also did not seem to endorse the current legislation.
"Having three licenses was two too many," Murray said in an interview. "And given this economic climate, we have to see who would bid. But the pushback from the membership would be, 'Why would you do this in a down economy, having people using the little money they have to gamble?' I know I've been buying more lottery tickets."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"Still a bad gamble"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Wednesday, February 04, 2009
While it was impossible to take seriously former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's attempt to blame dark forces in the casino industry for a demise that was very much his own doing, there is no denying that the replacement of the anti-gambling House leader with the pro-gambling Robert DeLeo changed the political equation in the state when it comes to introducing casinos. What hasn't changed is the argument against casino gambling — in fact, it has grown stronger in recent months.
Governor Deval L. Patrick's plan to introduce three casinos into the state last year fell apart largely because of the unbending opposition of Mr. DiMasi. Mr. DeLeo, who has two racetracks in his eastern Massachusetts district, has made it clear that he wants slot machines introduced at both of them, which will inevitably push the state down the slippery slope to casinos. Mr. DeLeo, the governor and Senate President Therese Murray, also a gambling proponent, discussed the gambling issue during the course of a meeting Monday.
When economic times are hard and revenue sources for state programs are drying up, the temptation to pursue easy money in the form of casino gambling becomes even more difficult to resist. Casinos, however, are not immune to the ravages of a recession-battered economy, as we are seeing today. The Twin River slot parlor in Rhode Island, suffering so much from large declines in gambling revenue over the past several months that it cannot meet its debt obligations, may soon become a ward of the state. The two casino giants in southeastern Connecticut, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, have been laying off workers just like many other businesses throughout the Northeast. The percentage of the take these casinos pass on to the state has declined along with their overall business, making the social costs of gambling, crime and addiction foremost among them, proportionately larger.
Should three casinos be introduced into Massachusetts, and perhaps a fourth if a tribal casino is built in Middleborough, the casino glut at a time of declining gambling revenues will make it impossible for them to fulfill their hype as economic panacea. Given the reality that gambling preys disproportionately upon the poor, the state also has a moral responsibility not to cynically pursue more money from those who can least afford it at a time when the economy is already eliminating jobs and undermining social programs.
Beacon Hill has an in-House expert, so to speak, in Representative Daniel Bosley of North Adams, who has been exploring the gambling issue since well before Governor Patrick brought it to the foreground a year ago. Mr. Bosley is well-informed on the alleged benefits of casinos as well as their many tangible drawbacks, and was a key adviser to Mr. DiMasi on the issue. If Mr. DeLeo freezes him out of the discussion ahead, voters will know that the fix is in.
The governor has proposed a series of new or increased taxes to make up a substantial revenue shortfall for 2009, and taxes are always controversial. Slot machines at race tracks and casinos in a sense constitute a tax, one that falls hardest on those who can least afford it. The benefits, such as they are, are overstated and of less significance in a poor economy. Change in House leadership aside, gambling is a still a bad hand for Massachusetts.
Newly elected House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. Photo by Nancy Lane.
"Robert DeLeo ‘open-minded’ on Bay State casinos"
By Hillary Chabot, Tuesday, February 3, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Local Politics
A duo of pro-gambling studies boosted the odds of casinos in the Bay State yesterday and fueled renewed interest by newly elected House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Gov. Deval Patrick.
DeLeo, who said he’s sympathetic to slots at financially struggling racetracks, said the debate on gaming could come as early as April and a vote on a new bill legalizing three casinos could happen this year.
“This is a bill that could take a whole lot of study,” said DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who discussed casinos during a leadership meeting with Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray yesterday. “I’m going into this open-minded.”
A study released yesterday by the University of Massachusetts at Boston found that hotel workers without a college education made more and received better benefits at casinos than those outside the industry.
The State House News also released a poll showing 57 percent of state residents would support another effort to legalize gaming.
Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi halted a bill filed by Patrick last year to license three casinos to raise badly needed revenues for the state. Now that DiMasi is gone, many casino proponents believe gaming has another chance.
“I think there’s a renewed interest. This has some life to it now,” said Rep. Brian P. Wallace (D-Boston). “Under Sal, they didn’t want to sign onto a bill where the speaker is dead set against it.”
Wallace plans to file an AFL-CIO-backed bill tomorrow that would legalize three casinos. More than 20 lawmakers have signed onto the bill since DeLeo took over, Wallace said.
“If there is a proposal and we get to a point where we’re doing horse-trading, then I’m sure we’ll take that up,” Patrick said.
However, gambling critics have threatened to put a repeal of any casino legislation on the state ballot, said casino foe Rep. Daniel E. Bosley (D-North Adams).
“In this economy you have to be careful when you count casino revenue because I’ve met with a number of groups who said, ‘If this ever does pass we’ll put it on the ballot,’ ” Bosley said.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1149623
"State, tribe may clash over Middleboro casino"
By Kyle Alspach, wickedlocal.com, Middleborough, Massachusetts
Saturday, February 07, 2009, 11:48 P.M. EST
MIDDLEBORO - A showdown over competing casino plans in the region looms once again, with renewed interest on Beacon Hill for commercial casinos and the Mashpee Wampanoags standing firm in their plans for a tribal casino in Middleboro.
Gov. Deval Patrick and other state officials prefer to work a deal with the tribe that would allow the Middleboro casino to function as a commercial, not tribal, casino.
But the tribe and its investors have no interest in such a deal, and say they expect their $1 billion resort casino would be built before a state-licensed casino.
“Whatever that commercial proposal would be, they would know there was a competing destination casino in Middleboro,” said Scott Ferson, a spokesman for the tribe’s casino project.
The recent talk of expanding gambling in Massachusetts may seem like déjà vu. But much has changed since last March when House lawmakers voted down Patrick’s casino plan.
In recent months, the slumping economy has put the state budget in desperate need of new revenues. And the House speaker, an ardent gambling foe, has been replaced with a gambling supporter.
“I think the odds are more favorable for expanded gaming in Massachusetts than they’ve been in 15 years,” said Clyde Barrow, a UMass-Dartmouth gambling researcher.
That leaves the Mashpee tribe with some of the same questions it faced when commercial casinos were being mulled at this time last year.
What should the tribe, and its investors, do if the state decides to license a casino for Southeastern Massachusetts? Does the tribe go for the license and drop its bid to open the casino on sovereign tribal land, or does it plow ahead with its plans, knowing it may have a competing casino nearby?
The tribe’s answers haven’t changed either: the tribe still has no interest in opening a commercial casino, according to Ferson.
And with the Middleboro casino a year closer to reality, lawmakers should have doubts about licensing a commercial casino for Southeastern Massachusetts, Ferson argued.
As of yet, the Mashpee don’t possess sovereign tribal land in the town. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is still reviewing the plan to convert more than 500 acres off Route 44 into tribal territory, where the tribe’s resort casino would be built.
Ferson said the approval could come this spring, though opponents of the casino say that’s optimistic.
A casino on tribal land would not have to pay taxes but would depend on a compact agreement with the governor, since casino-style gambling — known as “Class III” gaming — is illegal in Massachusetts.
The agreement would likely provide a portion of casino revenues to the state in exchange for allowing the casino to sidestep the state rules.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are set to consider a host of different plans for expanding gambling in the state.
Proposals filed in the Legislature range from licensing several casinos to bringing slot machines to racetracks, or some combination of them.
Casinos are being considered again in the wake of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s resignation. DiMasi was a major force last year in halting Patrick’s three-casino plan.
Barrow, of UMass-Dartmouth, believes at least 30 or 35 House lawmakers voted against the plan as a result of DiMasi “calling in favors,” and likely would support casinos now that someone else is in charge. New Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop supports putting slot machines at tracks and says he’s open to casinos.
Advocates say casinos would capture gambling dollars that are leaving the state for Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the troubled state government would be one of the winners.
The state has seen a more than $2 billion budget shortfall in recent months due to the down economy, and Patrick predicts the next budget may have to be even slimmer.
Casinos are earning less than in the past as consumer spending slows, according to reports. But the state could still earn hundreds of millions from casino licensing fees and as much as $1 billion a year in revenue taxes, according to state Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton.
Meanwhile, gambling opponents are vowing to place a repeal on the state ballot if the governor and Legislature sanction casinos in Massachusetts.
State Rep. Daniel Bosley of North Adams said a citizen petition drive would garner enough signatures to postpone the implementation of any casino legislation.
Coming Monday: Is it finally in the cards for the Raynham track to get slot machines?
Kyle Alspach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Tribe picks new officers, chairman: Record number of Wampanoags turn out for vote"
By Emily Canal, Boston Globe Correspondent, February 9, 2009
A record number of Wampanoag tribe members, including a pair of previously shunned members, voted yesterday in a Mashpee tribal government election that brought a new chairman to office.
Cedric Cromwell, who favors developing a tribal-owned casino in Middleborough, was elected tribal chairman with almost 60 percent of the vote, beating three other candidates. Rounding out the slate of tribal officers, Aaron Tobey was elected vice chairman, Mark Harding treasurer, Marie Lopez-Stone secretary, and Selena Jonas council member.
"They have an incredible balance of education and business knowledge and cultural and traditional heritage," said Paula Peters, a tribal member and spokeswoman, who described the new administration as reformers. "That will take us a long way and we have to be patient. It won't change what happened overnight because it's been too long."
Stephanie Tobey-Roderick and Michelle Fernandes, two of four tribal members who had been ostracized by the previous chairman, were among the 600 people who arrived at the Mashpee headquarters to vote yesterday afternoon, Peters said.
In addition to Tobey-Roderick and Fernandes, Amelia Bingham and her son Steven were shunned from the tribe in December 2006 after suing to gain access to financial records in an effort to expose alleged financial misconduct.
The group was shunned under the leadership of Glenn Marshall, who resigned as tribal chairman in August 2007 after a 1981 rape conviction was discovered.
It was the first regular election the tribe has held since August 2007 and Peters said it did not occur without controversy.
David Pocknett, the previous vice chairman, tried to prevent the four shunned members from voting, even though tribal judge Rochelle Ducheneaux had reinstated them at last month's meeting. Ultimately, Pocknett's efforts to block them from voting were unsuccessful.
Cromwell said he and the other officers in the new administration have been involved with the tribe all their lives, but Cromwell has not held office with the Wampanoags before. He said the new administration is interested in economic development, including casinos, and plans to look at renewable power sources like windmill and solar technology.
"This administration will pursue with all integrity efforts to develop a casino in Middleborough, but [we] are also open other initiatives," said Cromwell.
He did not elaborate on any plans because he said he wants to consult other tribe members.
Cromwell was elected with 356 votes. Tobey won with 257 votes, Harding with 322 votes, Lopez-Stone with 238 votes, and Jonas with 345 votes.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo
"DeLeo's new team includes DiMasi lieutenants, but few Rogers supporters"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, February 12, 2009, 1:52 PM
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is retaining some of former speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's key lieutenants in his own leadership team, including Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati, whose involvement in ticket-broker legislation is part of an influence-peddling investigation by Attorney General Martha Coakley.
And despite DeLeo’s calls to unify the House after his bitter battle to secure the gavel, his list of new chairmen and vice chairmen spurned the supporters of former majority leader John H. Rogers, his rival. Few of Rogers's supporters made the list, and Rogers himself was demoted from majority leader to a rank and file member.
When Coakley announced the indictment of DiMasi's former accountant and close friend Richard Vitale in December, the only people she referred to besides Vitale were DiMasi and Petrolati. She said that Vitale "communicated directly" with DiMasi and Petrolati "on multiple occasions" to lobby for the ticket brokers without registering as a lobbyist. DiMasi had denied even knowing that Vitale represented the group.
DeLeo refused to answer several questions about why he chose Petrolati – and would not even use his name during a three-minute press conference.
“Take a look at the team as a whole and I think you’ll be impressed with the talent and knowledge that we have,” he said.
DeLeo is also promoting several up-and-coming lawmakers to key positions. Representative Charles A. Murphy, a Burlington Democrat, will become chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and Representative James Vallee, a Franklin Democrat, will become majority leader.
The new speaker also, notably, removed Representative Daniel Bosley, a North Adams Democrat, from his chairmanship of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee. That committee helped ensure that Governor Deval Patrick’s casino legislation went down in defeat last year. DeLeo has placed Representative Brian S. Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat who called himself more “open-minded” on casinos, in charge of that committee.
DeLeo is also promoting Representative Ronald Mariano to become assistant majority leader. Mariano was among several lawmakers who socialized with lobbyist Richard McDonough at the 2007 Kentucky Derby. McDonough -- who was a lobbyist for Cognos ULC, a software vendor at the center of an ethics controversy – was reimbursed $13,000 for his expenses.
Mariano, through a spokesman, told the Globe in November that he paid his own way, although he refused to produce receipts.
DeLeo promoted Representative Robert P. Spellane, a Worcester Democrat, to become chairman of the Public Service Committee. Spellane, who was formerly vice chairman of the committee that regulates banks, has been forced to explain how he was able to forgo a year's worth of payments on a $340,000 loan from a local bank with an executive who supports him politically.
The lack of workers at development sites was a stark reminder of the worst economic downturn in Las Vegas history. (Louis Traub/ Associated Press
"What happens in Vegas resonates in Massachusetts: Industry's downturn may force backers of gambling to lower projections for state"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, February 24, 2009
LAS VEGAS - Cranes tower over the construction site, but they don't move. The steel awaits, but there are rarely any workers.
If there is a fitting emblem to the dire financial straits on the Las Vegas Strip caused by the national recession, it is here, in front of The Venetian, one of the world's most famous resort casinos. Its opulent marquee is overshadowed by a partially complete luxury condo tower, a $600 million project that has been halted indefinitely.
As Massachusetts returns to the idea of licensing resort casinos a year after Governor Deval Patrick's gambling proposal died in the Legislature, state officials are encountering a gambling industry that is suffering a hangover, like a gambler at 7 a.m. after a bad night, pockets empty.
Tourism and gambling revenues have shrunk. Stock values of casino companies are plunging. Financing for construction is tight. The casino moguls who were scouring Massachusetts for locations to build gambling and golf resorts just a year ago are now trying to stave off bankruptcy.
"One has to wonder whether or not Massachusetts has let this train pass them by," said Alan Feldman, a senior vice president at MGM Mirage, which operates several major casinos including the Bellagio and the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas.
Patrick's plan to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts failed last year in large part because of opposition from House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. The debate revived when DiMasi resigned last month, making way for a new speaker, Robert A. DeLeo, an enthusiastic supporter of adding slot machines at the state's dog and horse racetracks.
Even as the political stars are lining up on Beacon Hill, the downturn in the gambling and tourism markets may force state officials to reevaluate and potentially scale back their plans. For instance, casino executives said they would be far less likely to spend $200 million to $300 million for a 10-year license and agree to pay at least 27 percent of casino revenue to the state, which were the numbers proposed by Patrick last year.
If any proposals do gain traction, they will probably not match the lavish vision laid out by the governor, at least not initially.
"Nobody is going to go build the next version of the Mirage in Massachusetts right now," said Gary Loveman, the chief executive at Harrah's Entertainment, which operates seven Las Vegas hotel casinos. "It's just not feasible."
Loveman, a Bay State resident, has for years expressed interest in expanding in Massachusetts, and he continues to talk with Suffolk Downs officials about a potential expansion there.
Instead of resorts, Loveman said, the Massachusetts Legislature should pursue an incremental approach to expanded gambling by legalizing slot machines at the racetracks, including Suffolk Downs. One model, he said, would be similar to Detroit, where state officials allowed for temporary casinos until developers could secure more funding and build bigger tourist destinations.
Richard Fields, the principal owner of Suffolk Downs, said he remains confident that he could finance and develop a resort casino at the East Boston track.
There could also be a market for less well-known developers who are not on the Vegas Strip but who have been steadily building casinos across the country.
"There's plenty of money sitting on the sidelines," said David Nunes, a developer who has been putting together a joint venture to attempt to build a casino near Interstate 495 in Milford. "All these new gaming groups are attached to private equity firms with deep pockets, and Massachusetts is the last great market to go. People will show up. They'll just be different players."
Patrick has declined to say whether he plans to renew a push for casinos but has said he would not necessarily be deterred by economic woes in the industry.
Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands Corp. chief executive, in a rare, hourlong interview last week inside his office at The Venetian, said Massachusetts can't expect to win the lucrative windfall that Patrick forecasted last year unless the terms are more favorable to developers.
"I will do everything I can to be in my own hometown, in my own state," said Adelson, a Dorchester native. "However, it's going to be more difficult.
"I don't think there's anybody left in the casino business that would pay $350 million for a license for 10 years," he added. "They won't do it."
Adelson has seen losses that would make anyone blanch. He was the third-richest man in the world in 2007 - earning an average of $20.5 million a day - but saw his net worth decline $4 billion in September alone, according to Forbes magazine. Las Vegas Sands has endured stock declines and Adelson has poured $1 billion of his money into the company.
Adelson said he wants to build a resort on land near the nexus of Interstate 495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike on a site he won't identify. And while he thinks a casino with all the amenities is the only way Massachusetts can compete with the two Connecticut casinos, he is not ruling out a scaled-down facility.
"Will we do a slot parlor? Yeah," he said. "But we don't think that's in the best interest of the state of Massachusetts."
Overall, he said, he remains bullish on gambling. "I've been told since I was a kid there were two things that people never forget: how to ride a bicycle and how to have sex. And also how to gamble - so I say there's three things," said Adelson. "People aren't going to stop gambling."
But just outside his office window, Las Vegas is suffering its worst downturn ever, and specialists say it may be more than a temporary blip. Nevada has had 12 consecutive months of declining casino revenues, and the annual numbers fell for the third time in state history - dropping 9.7 percent last year, a far deeper decline than the 1.3 percent in 2001 and 0.3 percent in 2002.
Visitor volume, average room rates, and convention attendance were all down last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. In December alone, gaming revenue along the Las Vegas Strip fell 23 percent, to $474 million.
Stock for MGM Mirage has fallen 94 percent over the last year, and Las Vegas Sands has dropped 97 percent. Meanwhile, the casino company that Donald Trump founded filed for bankruptcy last week.
"We've never been in this severe of a downturn," said Frank Streshley, senior research analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board. "These are some of the best marketers to market their products. . . . but people are spending substantially less."
At 8:30 on Wednesday night at the Venetian, 18 of 36 card tables had not a single gambler sitting at it, leaving dealers with little to do. Inside the Palace Court Slots in Caesars Palace, there were two gamblers at about 100 machines.
At the Bellagio, where "Karma Chameleon" played lightly over the speakers, entire rows were empty, which some gamblers insist is because the casinos are stingy.
"I've never seen the slots so tight," said Roy Morey, 71, a retiree from Tucson who for the first time in 10 years wasn't planning to spring for show tickets. "Normally I'd gamble until 11 at night. Now we're finishing at 8 and going back to the room. We're just not winning."
One group of tourists walked along Las Vegas Boulevard last week lugging a bag of pretzels and five boxes of cereal from CVS back to their hotel, so they wouldn't have to eat out as much.
The guy standing outside Caesars Palace handing out free passes to "exclusive" nightclubs has noticed the downturn: Tim Rusling used to make $5,000 a month working three days a week, and now he's making half the pay for twice the work. He said he also has lowered his standards, and he's handing the free passes out to more people who appear less wealthy.
There are half-built projects on prime Vegas real estate, after casino companies took out billions in bonds to build luxury condominiums and high-end casino resorts. Boyd Gaming halted its $4.8 billion Echelon resort through at least the rest of this year, leaving the skeletons of concrete and steel buildings. MGM, which is trying to build an $8.6 billion complex called CityCenter, revealed last month it would eliminate 200 residential units, reduce the height from 49 floors to 28, and defer the grand opening for another year, to late 2010.
Still, most are optimistic that Las Vegas will bounce back. Just ask Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee, a 410-pound man who makes his living singing three times a day, five days a week at Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon.
"This town has been a little sore," he said, looking through tinted glasses. "We'll come back. This economy will come back."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"Casinos not a safe bet"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
If state officials are interested in reviving the idea of licensing casinos as a way of generating additional revenue, it appears that now isn't the time. The recession that has crippled the national economy is affecting the casino industry, too. Judging by the money they normally take in, Las Vegas and similar gambling meccas may appear to be recession-proof. But according to The Boston Globe, tourism and gambling revenues in Vegas have dropped significantly, stock values in casino companies have declined, and financing for new construction is getting harder to obtain. Obviously, the prognosis is not promising. It makes more sense for the state to impose a new gas tax then attach its hopes to an industry that is currently suffering and brings with it a whole set of unique problems the state doesn't need.
The debate over casino revenue, proposed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick when he took office two years ago, is being discussed again following the resignation of former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, who was an opponent of the proposal. Mr. DiMasi's successor as House Speaker, Robert A. DeLeo, apparently supports placing slot machines in the state's horse and dog tracks. Slot machines would certainly give the state's long suffering race tracks a bump at the gate, but they would also bring along the problems that are associated with casino gambling, albeit on a smaller scale. Given the current state of the gaming industry, it appears that even if a casino proposal was approved, what could be built would be much smaller than what Gov. Patrick originally proposed. With the state's current financial problems, and the national economic downturn, it's hard for state officials not to see revenues from either casinos or slot machines as a panacea to cure several financial ills especially when so much potential revenue goes to similar venues that are located in neighboring states.
But not everyone in the gaming industry sees it that way. Sheldon Adelson, a Dorchester native who is the chief executive of the Las Vegas-based Sands Corp., told The Globe that he doesn't believe anyone in the casino business would pay $350 million for a 10-year casino license, the terms that the Patrick Administration proposed last year. Adelson, according to The Globe, is interested in building a casino somewhere near the intersection of Route 495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, but hasn't ruled out the construction of a scaled down facility. When someone with close ties to the casino industry expresses those feelings, state legislators should take notice. These are challenging economic times, but there have to be better ways for the state to raise revenues than re-open the debate on an already failed proposal.
"Tribe blasts, opponents hail court land trust decision"
2/24/09, 6:31 pm, posted by Jim Kinsella, capecodtoday.com/blogs
"Supreme Court ruling throws serious obstacle at casino plans: Mashpee Wampanoag will seek congressional help to reverse impact of decision"
By James Kinsella
To Cedric Cromwell, newly elected chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, today's Supreme Court decision is "just another assault on tribal sovereignty."
To Mark Belanger, who opposes the tribe's plans to put a casino in Middleboro, the decision validates what "[we] opponents have been saying all along."
The court's 6-3 decision that the federal government could not place land into trust for newly recognized tribes throws a serious obstacle in the way of the tribe's plan to build a $1 billion casino in Middleborough.
Key to that plan is the tribe's request to the federal government to take 539 acres in Middleborough into trust, allowing the tribe to build and operate a casino on the property even if gambling remains illegal in Massachusetts.
The tribe, however, received federal recognition in 2007, long after Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934.
In today's ruling, the court ruled that the federal government could take land into trust for tribes recognized before the act, but not after.
"How can you put a date on when someone becomes a tribe?" asked Cromwell, who called the ruling "absurd."
Cromwell said the tribe will be sending letters to U.S. senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, and to Congressman William Delahunt, seeking legislation to once allow the tribe to take land into trust.
"We're going to look to Congress to correct what the court set out to do," Cromwell said.
But Belanger, who blogs as the Bellicose Bumpkin, questions whether the tribe now will succeed in its plans to build and operate a casino.
"This project isn't inevitable," he said. "In fact, it's highly doubtful. [The decision] means that it's not going to happen."
Even if Congress clears the way for construction of the casino, Belanger said, the court decision has completely skewed the tribe's schedule for building and opening a casino.
Further, he states on his blog that Congress "can only place federal lands into trust. The only federal land in Middleborough is the tiny parcel currently occupied by the Middleborough Post Office. World's smallest casino anyone?"
If Congress doesn't act, the tribe can't build a casino in Middleborough, according to Dennis Whittlesey, the attorney who negotiated a casino agreement between the town of Middleborough and the tribe.
Adam Bond, a former selectman in Middleborough, said he could forsee Congress making a quick fix to allow tribes such as the Mashpee Wampanoag to still have land taken into trust. Bond said the casino represents potential tax revenue to the federal government.
Gov. Deval Patrick opposes the taking of land into trust for a casino. A state spokeswoman said the state is "reviewing the decision to ascertain what impact it may have on tribes in Massachusetts."
Belanger opposes a casino in Middleborough, saying casinos represent a failed, predatory model that takes money out of the local economy and carries social costs.
Speaking of the Supreme Court's decision, Belanger said, "The State of Massachusetts should take a lesson from this. We, the people, are driving the bus when it comes to casinos and slot machines."
"Boston celebrates St. Patrick's Day" - 2009
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, left, presented a mini slot machine to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, right. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP Photo)
"Dean presses speaker on slots, says delay could snuff industry"
Arlington, Massachusetts - with news from the Arlington Advocate
By Jim O’Sullivan/State House News Service, Thursday, April 2, 2009, 2:29 P.M. EDT
Boston, Mass. - House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s support for slot machines at state racetracks is not ardent enough, the chamber’s longest-serving member said Thursday.
House Dean David Flynn said DeLeo’s decision to push the gambling debate back on the legislative calendar could be a death sentence for tracks desperate for cash. Racetracks could have slots up and running within 90 days, Flynn said, but state government would need at least six months to prepare for a major gambling expansion.
“I’m disappointed that he wants to debate this ‘some time this session’,” Flynn said. “We should be doing it now, and I feel strongly about that.”
DeLeo, whose district includes two tracks, has stepped back from the enthusiasm for slots he flashed during the opening hours of his speakership. At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday, the speaker said he expected "slots or the possibility of gaming in the future."
"Later on in the legislative session you are going to see us take up this issue and you are going to see us debate it in full," he said.
In a statement emailed Thursday, DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said, “Speaker DeLeo welcomes a free, open and comprehensive debate on gaming later in the legislative session.”
Flynn (D-Bridgewater), a consistent champion of the Raynham dog track, estimated the state was foregoing $750,000 in revenue per day by not sanctioning slot machines.
Gambling revenue estimates fluctuate dramatically. The slot parlor proposal Treasurer Timothy Cahill laid out earlier this month called for three venues that would generate up to $240 million annually through taxes, and up to $3.3 billion in immediate licensing fees, figures later doubted by analysts and lawmakers.
In 2006, the last time the Legislature voted on slot machines, proponents estimated the machines would create 4,000 jobs and $500 million in revenue.
Flynn’s claim of a $750,000 per diem translates to more than $273 million in revenue.
The House’s top gambling opponent, Rep. Daniel Bosley, doubted Flynn’s numbers, saying, “Ask him to document that. I love the dean, but trust but verify.”
Bosley (D-North Adams) said Flynn’s timing was bad, pointing to the gambling industry’s sliding revenues, and saying, “Everybody’s taking losses all over the place. Why would now be the time for slot machines?”
Flynn said the slots are needed to sustain the four tracks, and called postponement until later in the session a harsh blow to the racing industry. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s too late, and I say that because we’ll be out of business in January.”
During a State Lottery Commission meeting Thursday, Cahill said he expected slots to be debated “this year.”
Board members said they were considering approaching legislative leadership to redefine the definition of a slot machine, in the wake of recent police scrutiny of controversial phone card arcade games. Lottery general counsel Charles McIntyre warned that his counterparts in other states who attempted to define slot machines more narrowly ended up creating inadvertent loopholes that cause more harm than good.
"Casino backer loses Middleborough vote: Winner says it's time to move on"
By Christine Legere, Boston Globe Correspondent, April 5, 2009
MIDDLEBOROUGH - Voters in yesterday's town election tossed out an incumbent selectman, a supporter of a controversial plan to build a casino resort here, and elected his opponent, who had been a passionate foe of the plan.
Finance Committee member Stephen McKinnon beat Steven Spataro, earning 1,022 votes. Spataro received 972 votes.
McKinnon said tensions and bitterness over the casino issue remain and that voters probably supported the candidate who they believed would bring more openness to the Board of Selectmen.
"I think there is still that wedge, to be perfectly honest," he said.
In 2007, town officials and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe signed a deal for a billion-dollar casino resort on 539 acres that tribal leaders hoped to put into federal trust. The agreement infuriated many residents who felt the deal was made behind closed doors and without public input. The deal was eventually approved by residents during Town Meeting.
McKinnon said it is time to move on.
"In this town, we've been too focused on the casino," he said. "We need to look at the whole host of problems we face."
CasinoFacts, a group that opposes the casino, had published the slate of local candidates it endorsed on its website and yesterday urged residents to get out and vote for its picks, which included McKinnon.
"Today is the day to vote for change, transparency and a brighter future for Middleborough," the group declared on its website.
But one of its other choices, Greg Stevens, who sits on the group's board of directors, failed to win the one-year seat that became available after Selectman Adam Bond resigned in January. He lost to Alfred Rullo, who had not declared a position on the debate, and won 1,063 votes. Stevens picked up 990 votes.
In recent months, Stevens had tried to distance himself from his position on the casino, and told voters he was running to bring more transparency to the board and to allow residents more opportunities to present their ideas at public meetings.
He has described the selectmen's treatment of residents who disagreed with them as rude and dismissive.
At the height of the debate, Selectwoman Marsha Brunelle would bang her gavel down when residents dissented.
In the race for town moderator, former selectman Wayne Perkins ran against Ed Beaulieu, who is fairly new to the town.
Beaulieu also ran on a platform that promised more openness to residents, but Perkins beat him by a slim margin, picking up 1,047 votes. Beaulieu earned 1,004 votes.
In Arlington, voters also went to the polls, casting ballots in several races, including for the School Committee.
John W. Hurd and Clarissa Rowe, incumbents on the Board of Selectmen, faced no challengers and were reelected.
In the School Committee race, in which three candidates ran for two three-year terms, incumbent Jeffrey D. Thielman was reelected, earning 3,008 votes. Cindy Starks won the second spot with 3,454 votes, beating Joseph C. Tully, who had 2,528.
Globe correspondent John Guilfoil contributed to this report.
A Boston Globe Editorial - Short fuse
"Lobbyists: Crocodile tears for the poor"
April 9, 2009
It's amazing to see business lobbyists suddenly show concern for the little guy when profits are on the line. During Tuesday's legislative hearing on Governor Patrick's new revenue proposals, representatives of alcohol, restaurant, and telecommunications interests were tugging on the heartstrings, saying the proposed taxes were regressive. The American Beverage Institute said lifting the sales tax exemption on alcohol would hurt those "least able to pay," according to the State House News Service. A satellite TV firm said a proposed tax on its service would disproportionately hurt rural, immigrant, and lower-income families. Pretty soon, these same forces will be pushing for a progressive income tax in Massachusetts. Or maybe not.
Massachusetts State Senate President Therese Murray
"Legislative leaders warming to casinos"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, April 15, 2009
State Senate President Therese Murray said today that a bill allowing casinos in Massachusetts will be debated by both houses of the Legislature this fall as lawmakers intensify the push to expand gambling in the face of plunging tax revenues.
Murray pretended to pull the lever of a slot machine this morning when asked by a reporter about casinos, and even added an exclamatory "Ka-ching!"
"We need the revenue," Murray said at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel. "To see that over $900 million leaves the state every year to Connecticut and Rhode Island, even if we could pick up $700 million, we would all take that."
Allowing a casino bill to reach the floor of either house would be a significant step forward for advocates of expanded gaming. The measure was blocked in the past by former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, whose replacement, Robert A. DeLeo, supports the expansion of gambling.
The Senate would have passed a casino bill last year, Murray said today, if it had gotten through the House.
"There was an appetite last time," Murray told reporters after the speech, adding, "but there's a bigger appetite this time."
“There is interest among the leadership in having the conversation," Governor Deval Patrick said in a brief interview. "I think it will come later in the year."
DeLeo said “later on this session there will be a debate on gaming.”
“I’ve been a supporter of slots, and as I’ve told the governor before I’m open to a discussion relative to casinos,” he said during a meeting with Globe editors and reporters. “It’s obviously a very controversial subject matter, and … we have to try to get it as right as we can the very first time out of the box.”
He said the House is “already doing some studies” on expanded gambling and said Representative Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, has started meeting with proponents and opponents.
“Gaming seems to come up as the end-all,” DeLeo said, sounding a cautionary note. “If we do gaming, then everything is going to be fine in the Massachusetts economy. I want to be clear, while I’ve been a supporter, it’s not. I look at it as one revenue source we can tap into as a commonwealth.”
The leaders of both houses and Governor Deval Patrick have been talking about casino legislation for some time, according to Murray. Casino revenues would not be included in next year's budget, Murray said, and the state may not start reaping the financial benefits of expanded gambling until 2011.
Murray has asked two senators -- Senator Michael Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat, and Senator Stanley Rosenberg, a Northampton Democrat -- to lead the negotiations for the Senate. Morrissey has been a vociferous advocate for expanded gambling, while Rosenberg is opposed.
Still, there are significant differences to be worked out among the top leaders, including over whether to pursue resort casinos, as the governor has favored, slot machines at the race tracks, as DeLeo has pushed, or a third proposal by Treasurer Timothy Cahill to auction licenses for slot parlors.
Murray declined to say this morning which version she preferred. In the past, she has been lukewarm to the idea of a casino in an urban location such as Boston.
“If you talk to some of the senators who represent that area, it’s a congestion issue,” she said this morning when asked whether she would oppose a Boston casino. “But those are things that can be worked out in legislation.”
"Mayors, unions revive casino push"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, April 21, 2009
A group of influential mayors, including Thomas M. Menino of Boston, and trade unions re-launched their campaign today to persuade lawmakers to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts, adding further momentum to a hot-button debate that is expected to take place on Beacon Hill this fall.
The group, called the “Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth,” is sending out letters to municipal officials to try to persuade them to get behind resort-style casinos, the version that is supported by Governor Deval Patrick.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, whose district includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland racetracks, has expressed strong backing for slot parlors, with the most likely venues being the state's existing dog and horse racing tracks. Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who oversees the lottery, has supported auctioning three licenses for slot parlors.
Senate President Therese Murray last week added more momentum to the debate, saying the state needed to find a new source of revenue as the state struggles through a budget crisis. “Ka-ching,” Murray told a group of business leaders at a hotel ballroom, jerking her arm downward as if pulling the lever on a slot machine.
The letter from local officials, which is going out this week, was signed by Mayors Thomas M. Menino of Boston, Kimberley Driscoll of Salem, Thomas Ambrosino of Revere, and City Manager Jay Ash of Chelsea.
“We don’t have the luxury to continue a policy that exports Massachusetts tax revenues, jobs, and tourism to Connecticut and Rhode Island,” Menino said in a statement. “We have an opportunity with the authorization of resort casinos to create a new and sustainable revenue source for the state and cities and towns that will also create thousands of new jobs and stimulate tourism and economic development growth. And we need to seize that opportunity now.”
The coalition so far includes:
Mayor Tom Ambrosino, City of Revere
Mayor Tom Menino, City of Boston
City Manager Jay Ash, City of Chelsea
Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, City of Salem
Mayor Mark Hawke, City of Gardner
Mayor Carolyn A. Kirk, City of Gloucester
Sheet Metal Workers LV # 17
Greater Boston Labor Council
New England Regional Council of Carpenters
Local 103 I.B.E.W
Sheet Metal Workers LV # 17
Massachusetts Teachers Association
Massachusetts Building Trades Council
Carpenters Local 624
Carpenters Local 218
Suffolk Sterling Racecourse
Jason Smith, Selectman, Framingham
WFCW Local 1445
Here is a copy of the letter from the mayors:
Dear Fellow Municipal Official:
As Gov. Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts State Legislature decide the future of gaming expansion in Massachusetts, we are asking you to join with us in supporting the licensing of three gaming, entertainment and destination venues that will require the investment of more than $3 billion in private sector spending within our economy --- a critical and much-needed fiscal and economic development initiative that will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new local aid to be distributed to our struggling cities and towns.
Each of us is well aware that most of Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns face severe budgetary pressures likely to result in thousands of municipal employee layoffs and almost unimaginable curtailment of programs and services. At the same time, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature must address a $1 billion state budget deficit --- and that budget deficit next fiscal year may well approach or exceed $2 billion.
Further, taxpayers have made it clear in public opinion polls, at town meeting, and most demonstrably in a slew of city and town budget override votes, that they are opposed to most --- if not all --- tax increases.
Operating under the existing status quo, there is very little leeway, even by cutting jobs, programs and services, that state government and cities and towns can effectively address these fiscal inequities. As local officials, this leaves us no alternative other than to cut operating budgets --- by all means necessary.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Studies show that three gaming, entertainment and destination venues will generate nearly $500 million in new tax revenues, create 10,000 construction jobs and more than 20,000 casino-related jobs, spawn economic development statewide, generate more than $400 million in casino-related goods and services spending among Massachusetts small businesses, and revitalize the state’s tourism and hospitality sectors.
And, as a UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis recommended, by apportioning half of all new casino tax revenues to local aid, Massachusetts cities and towns would receive more than $200 million annually in additional local aid --- an estimated 10.4% increase over existing lottery disbursements.
Additionally, by dedicating to local aid an estimated $600 million in licensing fees from the three casinos --- apportioned over three years --- cities and towns would receive another $200 million annually as the casinos were being built and entering their first full year of operation..
Since 2003, Massachusetts residents have spent more than $1 billion annually at the Connecticut casinos and Rhode Island slot parlors. All told, since the casinos and slot parlors opened in 1993, Bay Staters have spent well about $12 billion at Connecticut and Rhode Island gaming venues. That spending has resulted in Massachusetts residents generating $4 billion in tax revenues to the Connecticut and Rhode Island state treasuries, monies used to fund education, local services, police and fire, property tax relief, and scores of other initiatives --- in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Massachusetts simply cannot continue to export its gaming, entertainment and tourism and hospitality sectors’ tax revenues and jobs into the Connecticut and Rhode Island economies.
That’s why we’re asking you to join with us in contacting your state senators and state representatives, and urge them to license three gaming, entertainment and destination venues that allows Massachusetts to reassert its fiscal and economic competitiveness --- and to provide new and sustainable local aid revenues vital to the fiscal and economic future of our Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns.
"Gambling fever develops 2 strains: Camps divide into casinos vs. slots"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, April 22, 2009
For gambling proponents, it was like drawing a full house in poker when state Senate President Therese Murray raised her arm last week, mimicked pulling a slot machine lever, and said, "Ka-ching." But even with new momentum for legalized gambling in Massachusetts, disagreements abound over what form it should take.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Suffolk Downs racetrack, and a coalition of trade unions and North Shore politicians renewed their push yesterday to legalize full resort casinos in Massachusetts. Their vision mirrors the pitch by Governor Deval Patrick last year to license casinos on the scale of those in Las Vegas and Connecticut, complete with lavish hotels and other amenities.
Other political heavyweights, including state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, have been making the case that major players in the casino industry have fallen victim to the economic downturn, are trying to stave of bankruptcy, and are not in a position to build lavish resorts. They argue that stripped-down slot machine parlors would be easier and cheaper to build and would produce money for state coffers sooner.
"I feel there has to be a component for slots at the tracks before we even have a discussion relative to casino gambling," DeLeo told reporters yesterday. "My position hasn't changed. . . . I see it as a relatively quick way of gaining revenue."
Resort casino advocates counter that Massachusetts needs to compete directly with Connecticut's destination casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. They also want the higher number of jobs that resorts would generate.
"We don't have the luxury to continue a policy that exports Massachusetts tax revenues, jobs, and tourism to Connecticut and Rhode Island," Menino said yesterday in a statement. "We have an opportunity with the authorization of resort casinos to create a new and sustainable revenue source for the state and cities and towns that will also create thousands of new jobs and stimulate tourism and economic development growth. And we need to seize that opportunity now."
The coalition includes a range of local officials, from mayors to selectmen. Trade unions in the group include sheet metal workers, carpenters, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
The topic of casinos dominated the State House last year before its defeat was engineered by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. DiMasi resigned in January and was replaced by DeLeo, who is a gambling proponent.
But some of those pushing for resort casinos are coming from DeLeo's own district, which includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland racetracks
"I can say categorically and unequivocally, this is not a criticism of anything that Speaker DeLeo has proposed," said Mayor Thomas Ambrosino of Revere, who favors resort casinos. "Perhaps there's some compromise out there that says, let's move eventually to resort-style casinos but start with slot machines."
The letter from local officials, which is going out this week, was signed by Menino, Ambrosino, Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, and City Manager Jay Ash of Chelsea.
The coalition was initially formed last year to advocate for the governor's proposals, and it has largely been led by Suffolk Downs.
Last year, for example, the operators of Suffolk Downs enlisted Mayor Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee to be featured on a pamphlet, mailed statewide, that sought to make the case for resort-style casinos.
Suffolk Downs also paid for a 50,000-piece mailing that went out statewide in November 2007 and was signed by Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrons try their luck at slot machines at the Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs casino in Plains Township., Pa. The same group that owns this facility wants to build a casino in Palmer. (Mohegan Sun photo).
"Palmer Study Committee cites potential costs of casino, ways to avoid burden"
By The Republican, By NANCY GONTER, email@example.com - Saturday May 09, 2009
Massachusetts can - for now - only dream of raking in the kind of cash coming from slot machine tax revenues in Pennsylvania.
Since the first slot machine casino opened there in 2006, the Keystone State took in $2 billion in taxes and casino license fees through the end of last year. Pennsylvania collects an average of $2.5 million a day in slot machine taxes, and in 2008 $1 billion went for property tax relief, according to its state Gaming Control Board.
Plains Township, a small community adjacent to the larger city of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., finances half its town budget from slot machine revenue. It is the site of Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs, operated by the same tribe that wants to locate a $1 billion casino in Palmer.
Casino operators in Pennsylvania are subject to a complex system of taxing that results in approximately 55 percent of slot revenues going back to the state and communities.
If Massachusetts were to legalize casino gambling, just how the state, a host community and surrounding towns will benefit - or bear the burden - remains unclear.
Legislation to allow casino gambling and slot machines at race tracks is before the state Legislature and is expected to be taken up in the fall. With state tax revenues in a free fall and massive cuts to the state budget in the offing, support for passage of casino legislation is said to be growing.
In Palmer, the Casino Impact Study Committee, a group formed by the town to examine the impact of a casino there, recently issued a report stating the town's taxpayers should not have bear the burden of hosting such an enterprise.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority has a 99-year lease on more than 150 acres across from Exit 8 of the Massachusetts Turnpike between Route 32 and Breckenridge Street in Palmer. If the state allows it, the tribe hopes to build a resort casino there.
The report by the casino committee listed a litany of expected costs related to a hometown casino, including the need for up to 24 more police officers at $1.9 million, expansion of the Fire Department at up to $2.5 million, and the possible construction of two schools at $40 million each.
Paul E. Burns
"There needs to be some mechanism to ensure the host community does not end up becoming a net loser in the process. Whether we negotiate that with the casino, the state or some combination it needs to be taken into consideration," Town Councilor Paul E. Burns said.
The committee's report includes a cover letter signed by all 12 members that recommended hiring a professional negotiator to deal with the tribal authority. "The town must have a host agreement in place that will cover all of the expenses set forth in this impact report so that no burden is placed on the citizens to cover any of the expenses associated with a casino," the letter states.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority is prepared to work with Palmer and surrounding towns on a needs assessment of public safety, infrastructure and other improvements, according to Paul I. Brody, vice president of development for the authority. But, he questions whether the developer of a large mall or industry would be asked to provide all the upgrades needed to locate in a community. "We want to be treated in the same fashion," Brody said.
"As we have suggested on a number of occasions, we strongly urge Palmer to have a voice in the legislation in terms of specific distribution of gaming tax revenues for the towns most impacted," he added.
The gaming bill, filed in January by 11 legislators, including several from Western Massachusetts, calls for allowing 1,500 slot or video gaming machines at the state's four existing race tracks - Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, Plainville Race Course and Raynham Dog Track - with a $25 million license fee price tag and a tax of 65 percent on slot machine revenues. Suffolk and Wonderland, are both in the legislative district of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop.
Paul I. Brody
It also calls for one resort casino each in Hampden and Bristol counties to be taxed at a rate of 17 percent of net revenues. The bill requires an endorsement vote from the town where the casino will be located and an agreement with the host and surrounding towns "to provide mitigation" which would be determined by a newly-created Gaming Commission.
Legislation calling for three resorts filed by Gov. Deval L. Patrick last year and defeated by the Legislature, had many more specifics. It called for a licensing fee of at least $200 million and an operating license payment of at least 27 percent of all gross gaming revenue, or $100 million a year, which ever is higher. It also called for an unspecified community impact fee for the host town and required the casino developer to pay for infrastructure improvements. The bill had a list of other demands, including job creation, designation of open space, on-site day care programs and career coaches for employees.
In Connecticut, where two casinos were built on tribal lands in the mid-1990s, the state gets 25 percent of all slot machine revenue. Between the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, Connecticut has received an average $400 million annually in recent years, said Charles F. Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan Tribe. The money is distributed to communities statewide based on population, although in 2005, legislation was approved to increase the amounts given to the host and surrounding towns, he said.
Before Mohegan Sun opened in 1996, it negotiated an agreement with its host town of Montville in which the tribe agreed to pay $500,000 annually, roughly the amount in tax revenue the town received from the previous owner. The payment is a "gesture of good will" because the casino is located on what is now tribal land, Bunnell said. An additional payment of $250,000 was made to the town in 2004 "just to say the relationship has been working so well," he said.
A casino is Massachusetts would differ as it would "strictly be a commercial venture," Bunnell said. "The tribe coming to Massachusetts would just be like any other developer, dealing with the community and the laws of Massachusetts," he said.
Legislation here would need to be crafted so "a developer can make the numbers work," Bunnell said. In Kansas and Maryland, the tax structure was so high that casino developers backed away, he noted.
In Pennsylvania, the Mohegans took over the existing Pocono Downs race track in 2005, added slots when they were legalized in 2006 and doubled the number of machines last July.
The situation is similar to circumstances envisioned for Massachusetts in that the casino is not on tribal land and is a commercial venture. Pennsylvania takes a five-pronged approach to taxation, Robert Soper, the president and chief executive officer of that facility said in an interview.
Thirty-four percent of slot revenues go to the state directly for property tax relief, 5 percent to a tourism fund and another 12 percent to a fund to develop horse racing in the state, although that amount could drop as low as 7 percent, Bunnell said.
Two percent of revenue goes to economic development projects in Luzerne County, where the casino is located, with priority given to Plains Township and then to adjoining towns. Another 2 percent is set aside to fund half the town budget, which is approximately $2 million, and the remaining amount also goes for economic development, he said.
In early March, 20 projects in Luzerne County were given a total of $13.8 million in funding from slot machine revenues. They included a new police station and two cruisers for one town and surveillance cameras for another. More than 80 requests were received, said Steven Weitzman, press secretary for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
"It's worked out well. It's a non-taxpayer source of funds to do some things. It gives us a pot of money to do things that would be difficulty or impossible to do," Weitzman said.
Pennsylvania announced in mid-April that nearly $770 million in gaming revenue will be available for property tax relief this year, the same level as in 2008. Nearly 2.7 million state residents saw their taxes reduced because of gaming revenue, with the statewide average expected to be nearly $200 again this year, according to a press release from the state's budget secretary.
Annual revenue at Pocono Downs alone was $170 million in 2008 and is expected to be higher this year, Soper said. For the month of March, slot revenues there were more than $18 million, nearly 36 percent higher than the prior March.
Statewide, revenue from slot machines is growing at nearly double digit rates and in March 2009, it was 9.4 percent higher than March 2008. That meant more than $85 million in taxes for that month alone.
In Massachusetts, debate on the pending casino legislation is expected to happen in the fall, according to Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, a past casino supporter. She believes Massachusetts should capture some of the $900 million that its residents currently spend at the two Connecticut casinos each year.
And, she believes there is strong support for the legislation to be passed this year. "There was an appetite last time, but there's a bigger appetite this time," she said.
Reporter Dan Ring contributed to this report.
The Palmer Citizens Casino Impact Study Committee says the following may be needed to compensate for a casino operating in town. Cost estimates are provided where available:
--Treatment center for problem gamblers: $190,000
--Possible construction of two schools: $40 million each
--Expansion of English Language Learners program in the public schools
--Hotel and restaurant management curriculum at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School: $154,000
--Adult basic education expansion at Top Floor Learning: $115,000, or a new site at the casino: $250,000
--Yearly contribution for purchase of open space and a full-time conservation agent
--13 addition employees in Department of Public Works: $845,000 annually
--New vehicles for Department of Public Works
--20-24 additional officers for the Police Department: $1.92 million annually
--Six police cruisers: $30,000-$35,000 each
--New police station
--Connection for water service from Quabbin Reservoir: $30-$50 million
--Sewer lines and other upgrades for the casino: $10.9 million
--20 full-time firefighters and a secretary for the Fire Department: $1.57 million annually
--Addition to the fire station: $2-$2.5 million
--New rescue truck and fire engine
--Expansion of Wing Memorial Hospital emergency room by two to four beds, including land purchased: $2-$2.5 million
--A full-time zoning enforcement officer
The committee also recommended the following action be taken locally:
--Adopt an ordinance to prevent "hot bedding," where landlords rent rooms to more than one unrelated tenant
--Approve a moratorium on new construction of multi-family housing
--Increase taxation of non-owner occupied multi-family dwellings
"As economy sours, Mass. gambling debate heats up"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer, May 17, 2009
BOSTON --As lawmakers scramble for revenues, casino gambling -- declared dead just a year ago -- is seeing its odds surge again, helped on by a key change in leadership on Beacon Hill and the state's desperate need for cash.
On Monday, operators of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut plan to open an office on Main Street in downtown Palmer to introduce themselves and help build public support for a possible Western Massachusetts destination casino.
The Mohegan Tribe has signed a 50-year ground lease on 152 acres in Palmer with the hope that Massachusetts lawmakers will finally give the green light to casino gambling.
"We believe that if gaming is introduced to the commonwealth we would be able to go into the market as the best known gaming company on the East Coast," said Mohegan Sun cheif executive Jeff Hartmann, pointing to the jobs that the casino could bring to the area. "We'll be there to introduce ourselves to the community."
Hartmann isn't alone.
The owners of the state's dog and horse tracks are also looking for a new lease on life by convincing the state to allow them to install slot machines.
For dog tracks like Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, the prospect of slot machines is particularly enticing since voters last year approved a ballot question to ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts at the end of the year.
And the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is still hoping to open a casino in Middleborough under a federal law that permits tribes to enter the gaming business.
One reason for the renewed optimism is the new House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, who has the Wonderland and Suffolk Downs racetracks in his district.
Unlike former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who quashed a proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick to license three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts last year, DeLeo supports expanded gaming -- although he prefers installing slot machines in existing racetracks first.
Despite having lost their most vocal supporter in DiMasi, gambling opponents aren't giving up.
Instead they are ramping up their pleas to lawmakers to resist what they say is the false promise of fast casino cash.
They say the hidden costs of casinos -- particularly the social costs of gambling addiction -- far outweigh any licensing fees or tax revenues the casinos may generate. They are also quick to point out that even casinos are taking a hit in the recession.
"We expect our elected officials to take the long view and not prey on the most vulnerable among us," said Laura Everett, spokeswoman for the group Casino Free Mass. "While it may be seductive to have this as a short term fix, it doesn't solve the fundamental problem of how we fund state services."
But even a short term fix could prove hard to resist as the state grapples with the worst fiscal crisis in more than a generation.
Revenue estimates continue to tumble, forcing lawmakers to make deep service cuts while also weighing unpopular tax increases.
Compared to both of those options, casino licensing fees and gambling tax revenues could sway enough support on Beacon Hill -- especially as the state continues to see Massachusetts residents drive over the border to spend their gambling dollars in neighboring states.
Leaders on Beacon Hill have tried to tamp down expectations of a fiscal silver bullet from casinos. While the extra money would be welcome, they say it's not going to be enough to dig the state out of its current fiscal hole.
They say lawmakers are faced with the much more immediate problem of crafting a new budget for the 2010 fiscal year that begins July 1 won't even be able to begin considering casino gambling until the fall.
Any revenue would likely come to late to help for the 2010 fiscal year.
Palmer, Mass., its downtown shown in this 2003 aerial photo, is known for its railroad past, but automobile traffic is more a point of contention with residents weighing whether they want a casino to come to town.
"Mohegans Seek Niche, Won't Tout Slots"
www.theday.com - By Brian Hallenbeck, 5/17/2009
Palmer, Mass. - When Mohegan Sun officials throw open the doors to their Main Street office here this week, they're not likely to start rattling on about the gambling options that would fuel the resort casino they hope to build off a nearby Mass Pike exit.
They won't be displaying slot machines. There will be no craps tables, no roulette wheels, no card games.
Instead, visitors will find some plush sofas and flashes of a freshly lacquered floor that might remind them of the one the women's professional basketball team pounds at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. The walls of the office will be adorned with framed posters that capture the Connecticut resort's other features, its angular architecture, its cuisine and the top-tier performers whose appearances have helped transform the Nutmeg state's southeastern corner.
The storefront window displays will feature “non-gaming amenities,” said Paul Brody, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's vice president of development and point man for the Palmer project, one side devoted to “food and beverage,” the other to entertainment.
”Most people already know about the gaming,” Brody said.
And it's the chance to offer all that other stuff that warrants the authority's willingness to invest more than a billion dollars in Palmer, a western Massachusetts town more familiar with abandonment than economic development. In the 1960s, the railroad stopped picking up passengers here, and then the textile industry bailed out, too, leaving behind red-brick factory buildings and flat-faced tenements erected to house the factories' workers.
It's little wonder then that the Mohegan authority wants no part of Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill's proposal to license three slots parlors in the state rather than full-scale “destination” resorts, at least as it pertains to Palmer. Cahill's plan has yet to gain much traction on Beacon Hill, but it's on the table, as are a number of casino bills the state legislature is expected to take up in the fall. As Massachusetts' projected budget deficit for fiscal 2010 soars, most observers increasingly believe the legalization of some form of casino gambling in the state is a sure bet.
In Palmer, whether a law authorizes full-scale casinos, like those Gov. Deval Patrick first envisioned a year ago, or Cahill's slots parlors could make all the difference. Last week, the town's Economic Development Advisory Committee hosted a forum in which Brody and Craig Stepno, a senior policy adviser in the state treasurer's office, participated.
It wasn't supposed to be a debate, but at times it felt like one.
Racetracks into racinos
Under Cahill's plan, Stepno said, the state would license a slots parlor in each of three geographic regions in the state - “Boston North, Boston South and western Massachusetts” - and each would be authorized to operate 2,500 to 3,000 video lottery terminals, or VLTs. The treasurer's office estimates the state could make between $1.9 billion and $3 billion in upfront licensing fees, and more on the sale of the terminals to the parlor operators. It calculates that a 27 percent tax rate on the parlors' winnings would generate from $200 million to $240 million a year.
It's also estimated that each slots parlor would employ about 1,000 full-time workers.
Perhaps the most attractive thing about the revenue stream the parlors would generate is the speed with which it could be tapped. Stepno said an existing racetrack facility could be converted into a “racino” featuring VLTs in three to four months. Building a slots parlor from scratch could be accomplished in about a year.
(Massachusetts has horse-racing facilities in East Boston and Plainville, and greyhound tracks in Raynham and Revere. None are in the western part of the state. In a statewide referendum last November, voters approved a ban on greyhound racing as of Jan. 1, 2010.)
”Slots are the fastest way to get revenue and create jobs,” said Stepno, who noted that Cahill also has reservations about the ability of gaming enterprises to finance construction of resort casinos given the economic climate.
Brody, while acknowledging that slots parlors, either at a racetrack or freestanding, may be attractive options in some parts of the state, they are not suited to western Massachusetts in general and Palmer in particular, where a gambling facility would have to be built from the ground up.
”Our belief is that it's not right for Palmer,” he said, adding that the Mohegan authority operates a racino near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and knows what it's talking about.
The project Mohegan Sun wants to build, Brody said, would provide 1,000 to 1,200 jobs during construction and 2,500 to 3,000 permanent jobs thereafter. It would include a casino offering all the gambling options offered at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, including poker; a 600-room hotel and spa; a mix of leased and casino-owned restaurants; retail shops; and “modest” entertainment and meeting space.
Brody said the casino could generate $500 million a year in gaming revenue “assuming a reasonable taxing policy,” and noted that the Mohegan authority has access to a $1.8 billion line of credit. He said that by the time construction commenced, capital markets likely would have loosened up.
Design and construction would take 12 to 18 months to complete.
Traffic: too much, too little
At Dominick's, a restaurant in Three Rivers, one of the four villages that make up Palmer, population 12,600, the regulars aren't shy about the prospect of a “destination” in their midst.
”You should be here in the morning at 7 a.m.,” said waitress Carol Dalessio, whose daughter owns the place. “My coffee crowd's all for it. They're mostly construction workers at that hour. Later in the day, you get some who are against it because of the demands on the water system, the police force. Some say, 'I'm all for a casino, but not in this town.' “
Bill Carolan agrees with that last suggestion.
”Traffic's the big issue,” he said. “It ought to be out at Mount Tom (in nearby Holyoke). That's where they ought to build it.”
”But the tree-huggers out there don't want it,” said Billy Rondeau, who's lived all of his 53 years in Palmer. “I don't think the town's roads were designed for the traffic. Friday afternoons are bad now. … I want the jobs though. Look at the factories that went. You hear these rumors that they're going to hire all Orientals and build tenement houses for them, but I don't know.”
On the slots-parlor-vs.-resort debate, Rondeau's made up his mind.
”Why go through all the trouble for the smaller thing,” he said. “If you're going to do it, do it right. Don't go half-assed.”
Such opinions are of no small consequence, since any casino legislation that passes is expected to give towns the right to decide for themselves whether they want to host a gambling facility. In a nonbinding referendum in 1997, Palmer residents voted 2,444 to 1,935 to allow “a hotel/conference resort with entertainment and casino gaming” on the very 150-acre site Mohegan Sun has optioned for its project.
Next time, the vote will be binding.
”It's definitely a divisive issue,” said Matthew Street, Palmer's town manager. “There's very little middle ground. People are either for it, against it or they're wait-and-see on what the legislature does.”
Diane Pikul's among the naysayers.
”I'm very upset about the casino,” she said. “I'll be able to look off my deck on Flynt Street and spit on it. I think it will bring more problems than it's worth.
”You get a lot of lower-income people who work at casinos, a lot of foreigners, and it puts a strain on the schools and services. “
Pikul, too, worries about the traffic, even though Mohegan Sun has said it's prepared to spend $60 million to $70 million on a highway “flyover” that would direct casinogoers from and to Exit 8 of the turnpike, lightening the load on routes 181, 20 and 32.
”The Brimfield Antique Show causes traffic problems now,” Pikul says.
Next month, an anti-casino group plans to demonstrate by simulating the traffic congestion it believes a casino development could cause.
But for too long, Blake LaMothe, a local businessman and railroad enthusiast, has been far more concerned about the lack of traffic in town.
”I don't think it's a bad idea at all,” he said of the Mohegan Sun project. “It'll bring taxes down, promote business. You'll see a lot more commerce in this area.”
LaMothe thinks a resort casino could put Palmer, once known as the town where seven railroads converge, back on the map. He'd like the Mohegans to help finance a railroad museum, and perhaps one dedicated to Indian tribes, too. Palmer could land the National Railway Historical Society's headquarters.
”What better place to put it?” LaMothe said.
"Mohegan Sun casino to open MA office"
By Associated Press, May 17, 2009
BOSTON — As lawmakers scramble for revenues, casino gambling — declared dead just a year ago — is seeing its odds surge again, helped on by a key change in leadership on Beacon Hill and the state’s desperate need for cash.
On Monday, operators of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut plan to open an office on Main Street in downtown Palmer to introduce themselves and help build public support for a possible Western Massachusetts destination casino.
The Mohegan Tribe has signed a 50-year ground lease on 152 acres in Palmer with the hope that Massachusetts lawmakers will finally give the green light to casino gambling.
"We believe that if gaming is introduced to the commonwealth we would be able to go into the market as the best known gaming company on the East Coast," said Mohegan Sun cheif executive Jeff Hartmann, pointing to the jobs that the casino could bring to the area. "We’ll be there to introduce ourselves to the community."
Hartmann isn’t alone.
The owners of the state’s dog and horse tracks are also looking for a new lease on life by convincing the state to allow them to install slot machines.
For dog tracks like Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, the prospect of slot machines is particularly enticing since voters last year approved a ballot question to ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts at the end of the year.
And the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is still hoping to open a casino in Middleborough under a federal law that permits tribes to enter the gaming business.
One reason for the renewed optimism is the new House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, who has the Wonderland and Suffolk Downs racetracks in his district.
Unlike former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who quashed a proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick to license three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts last year, DeLeo supports expanded gaming — although he prefers installing slot machines in existing racetracks first.
Despite having lost their most vocal supporter in DiMasi, gambling opponents aren’t giving up.
Instead they are ramping up their pleas to lawmakers to resist what they say is the false promise of fast casino cash.
They say the hidden costs of casinos — particularly the social costs of gambling addiction — far outweigh any licensing fees or tax revenues the casinos may generate. They are also quick to point out that even casinos are taking a hit in the recession.
"We expect our elected officials to take the long view and not prey on the most vulnerable among us," said Laura Everett, spokeswoman for the group Casino Free Mass. "While it may be seductive to have this as a short term fix, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of how we fund state services."
But even a short term fix could prove hard to resist as the state grapples with the worst fiscal crisis in more than a generation.
Revenue estimates continue to tumble, forcing lawmakers to make deep service cuts while also weighing unpopular tax increases.
Compared to both of those options, casino licensing fees and gambling tax revenues could sway enough support on Beacon Hill — especially as the state continues to see Massachusetts residents drive over the border to spend their gambling dollars in neighboring states.
Leaders on Beacon Hill have tried to tamp down expectations of a fiscal silver bullet from casinos. While the extra money would be welcome, they say it’s not going to be enough to dig the state out of its current fiscal hole.
They say lawmakers are faced with the much more immediate problem of crafting a new budget for the 2010 fiscal year that begins July 1 won’t even be able to begin considering casino gambling until the fall.
Any revenue would likely come to late to help for the 2010 fiscal year.
"Mass. AG: Need tougher laws before more gambling"
By Glen Johnson, AP Political Writer, June 29, 2009
BOSTON --Massachusetts must strengthen its investigatory and regulatory laws before going ahead with any plans to expand gambling, Attorney General Martha Coakley said Monday.
The state's chief law enforcement officer said money laundering, wiretapping and criminal conspiracy laws need to be updated to police any additional gambling ventures.
She also said the state should quickly settle on how best to regulate and audit any expanded gambling, saying monitors are needed even before the first licensing fees are collected. And she urged members of the Senate committee before which she appeared to ensure her office, that of Auditor Joseph DeNucci and similar government entities receive a share of any gambling proceeds to cover the costs of such oversight.
"We cannot go zipping into this without considering those other areas," Coakley told the committee members.
The discussion came just hours before Gov. Deval Patrick planned to sign a $24.7 billion fiscal 2010 budget sharply cutting government services and also raising the sales tax by 25 percent.
Gambling proponents say those moves underscore the importance of expanding the industry in Massachusetts to capture some of the estimated $900 million in revenue gambled by Bay State residents in 2005 at Connecticut casinos.
Senate President Therese Murray has said the Legislature will likely act on a bill this fall, and some proponents suggest licensing fees could be levied within months to alleviate budget cuts contemplated in the fiscal year beginning Wednesday, or no later than the one that will begin July 1, 2010.
The audience in the Statehouse auditorium was filled with lobbyists and political consultants, including former House Speaker Charles Flaherty, testimony to the intense interest in the legislation and belief among insiders that something will happen soon.
Fueling the perception was the recent resignation of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who stymied Patrick's attempt last year to license three destination resort casinos in Massachusetts. Patrick had estimated the casinos could bring in $600 million in licensing fees and $400 million in annual tax revenues, while creating 20,000 permanent jobs.
Yet critics say the state's precarious financial situation is no reason to prey on vulnerable people who may make bad bets.
Sen. Sue Tucker, D-Andover, shook her head as she noted Coakley's interest in expanded criminal statutes, saying it spoke volumes about the nature of the industry.
"Every time we hear about the numbers the industry is going to bring in, we never subtract these costs," Tucker said.
Tucker also questioned the state's ability to regulate the industry.
"They find out-of-control gamblers, they market to them because that's where their profits come from. So how do you effectively regulate an industry that depends on addiction for its profits?" the senator said.
A View From Adams, Massachusetts
"Column: Gov. Patrick hangin' tough"
By BILL DONOVAN, Columnist, OPINION, advocateweekly.com - Thursday, July 16, 2009
The 2010 race for governor in Massachusetts is attracting a flock of early and eager candidates. They all seem prepared to risk much. Fresh out of the gate, they're dropping lifelong party alliances, promising to cashier top executive positions and pledging their willingness to sink personal fortunes into a hot pursuit of the state's top seat.
Professional politicians don't like long shots. An incumbent governor has a powerful ready-made advantage in what will definitely be an expensive, nasty statewide contest. The gubernatorial hopefuls wouldn't be this bold unless they thought they had a good chance of unseating Gov. Deval Patrick.
Despite the poll payload created by simply being an incumbent, Gov. Patrick enters the 2010 contest as an underdog. This is no surprise. It's an accurate reflection of his political fortunes during his first term.
As a candidate for re-election, Patrick is vulnerable simply because he has taken an enormous blast of media heat. Remember "Cadillac Deval"? From that early tone-deaf choice of an official state vehicle to his recent installation of political supporter state Sen. Marian Walsh in a cushy, highly paid state job, the governor has been wearing a "Kick Me Hard" sign on his back since he first landed in Boston.
Gov. Patrick has made one other misstep that will haunt him in November of 2010: He made many promises while on the way to winning the last gubernatorial contest.
Regardless of tough times, he should have made a more determined effort to fulfill at least one of them - his pledge to help reduce local property taxes.
The amount of property tax homeowners throughout Massachusetts pay can't be fairly laid on the governor's doorstep. He had nothing to do with the years of out-of-whack state budgets and unfunded state mandates that are the main reason why we pay what we pay in order to pay state imposed bills.
But the governor did promise loudly and repeatedly during the election campaign to alleviate the tax burden in Massachusetts cities and towns. It may not be fair to blame him for the reasons our state has ended up being addicted to high real estate taxes. It is fair to ask him, "What happened, governor? Where's that tax relief?"
And the answer the governor could fairly give, of course, is that incredibly tough times laid waste to the best of campaign promises. Still, a promise is a promise. Even if it amounted to little more than a symbolic gesture, it would have been nice to see Gov. Patrick lop off the heads of a few more state agencies in order to send a chunk of tax relief money out across the state.
Despite all of that, despite his failure to address property tax issues as promised, the tough economic times facing the state and the severe media drubbing he has received, Gov. Patrick is surprisingly starting to emerge as a stronger and more formidable opponent than he looked to be only a few months ago.
He took the lead during the recently completed budget process. He didn't blink as tough and unpopular local aid cuts were linked to the first sales tax increase in more than a quarter of a century. He also recently made important legislative steps toward eliminating the historic culture of corruption on Beacon Hill.
And even though his casino gambling proposal reportedly cost him heavy political losses among what is perceived to be his base of supporters, Gov. Patrick has not abandoned the idea. He clearly appears willing to return to casino gambling as a possible and much-needed revenue and tourism resource.
Gov. Patrick has shown an impressive political toughness. He simply won't lie down. His herd of panting challengers may want to think twice before they assume it will be easy to cut him out of the pack and bring him down.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Patrick support plummets, poll finds: Faulted on economy, reforms; tough reelection fight ahead"
By Frank Phillips and Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, July 26, 2009
Governor Deval Patrick, fresh off signing a major tax increase and still battling through a historic budget crisis, has seen a huge drop in his standing among Massachusetts voters and faces a tough road to a second term, according to a new Boston Globe poll.
The survey, taken 16 months before the election, shows that the public has lost faith in Patrick’s ability to handle the state’s fiscal problems or bring reform to Beacon Hill, as he had promised. He is either losing or running neck-and-neck in matchups with prospective rivals, according to the poll, conducted for the Globe by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Patrick’s favorability rating has dropped sharply over the past seven months, with just 36 percent of respondents holding a favorable opinion of him, and 52 percent viewing him unfavorably. As recently as December, 64 percent of voters viewed him favorably.
The governor’s job-approval rating, sampled after Patrick scored several major legislative victories but also approved $1 billion in new taxes, is even worse, with just 35 percent of respondents approving and 56 per cent disapproving of his performance. Just as ominously, 61 percent said the state is on the wrong track, compared with 31 percent who said it was headed in the right direction, down from 44 percent in December - numbers reminiscent of voters’ mood before Patrick captured the corner office from Republicans in 2006.
Even the state Legislature, traditionally held in low esteem by the public, won higher marks when voters were asked whom they trust more to manage the state budget crisis and faltering economy. Forty percent said they put more faith in state lawmakers to handle fiscal issues, compared with 23 percent for Patrick.
“These numbers indicate that Patrick is in a very difficult position regarding his reelection,’’ said Andrew E. Smith, director of the survey center. “Voters do not think he is up to the task of dealing with the state’s fiscal problems, and he has lost his mantle as a reformer.’’
The poll, conducted among 545 respondents statewide from July 15 to 21, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Patrick, the poll numbers suggest, is being blamed in part for the fallout from a global recession largely beyond his control. But even as Massachusetts approved this year’s budget without the political acrimony that has crippled states such as New York and California, polls around the country indicate that Patrick appears to be one of the least popular governors in the nation.
The potential matchups for the 2010 election illustrate the perilous political position of Patrick, who has said he will not govern on the basis of poll numbers.
State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who left the Democratic Party this month to plot a potential independent gubernatorial candidacy, runs even with the governor in a three-way race that includes a Republican candidate.
Cahill also has a much higher standing with the public: Forty-two percent of respondents say they view him favorably, compared with 17 percent who view him unfavorably; the rest said they did not know.
Without Cahill in the race, the poll indicates, Patrick runs behind or even with the two potential Republican contenders. The newest GOP entrant, former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive Charles D. Baker, tops Patrick 41 percent to 35 percent in a head-to-head matchup. Baker beats Patrick even though more than six in 10 respondents said they knew little about the Republican.
The other Republican candidate, former Turnpike Authority board member Christy Mihos, runs about even, getting 41 percent to Patrick’s 40 percent, even though nearly two in five respondents said they viewed Mihos unfavorably.
Patrick’s best hope at this point appears to be that Cahill and Baker both run. The governor’s core constituency remains highly educated, liberal Democrats and voters in Western Massachusetts, which could help form a big enough base if Baker and Cahill split many conservative Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Baker has the potential to cut into Cahill’s support among independents the more he introduces himself to voters.
Patrick’s formerly strong appeal to independents - the state’s largest voting bloc - has dropped sharply, with only 17 percent viewing him favorably. Nearly two-thirds say they have an unfavorable opinion.
Seven months ago, a Globe poll showed that 52 percent of independents viewed the governor favorably.
“I just somehow expected him to be more ready and have more of a plan in place by now than he does,’’ said one poll respondent, Norma George, a 71-year-old retired nurse from Duxbury.
George, an independent who voted for Patrick in 2006, thinks the governor has been too indecisive.
“It may not even be his fault,’’ she said. “But I’m just disappointed with the way things are moving, or lack thereof.’’
One of the most damaging findings in the poll for Patrick was that most Massachusetts residents do not believe he has brought change to Beacon Hill, a core tenet of his 2006 gubernatorial race and a key aspect of his political persona.
Patrick’s political advisers have hoped he would get a big boost from his recent signing of major overhauls of state ethics, transportation, and pension laws - all changes he championed.
But just 25 percent said they felt that Patrick has brought reform to state government, while 62 percent said he had not - including nearly half of Democrats.
The governor must try to recover his political standing in an economic environment that some state officials believe could worsen next year.
On a variety of issues - from taxes to funding for Greater Boston’s zoos - voters either disagree with Patrick or do not trust him.
New increases in the sales and other taxes, which the Legislature initiated but Patrick signed, are deeply unpopular, despite being passed to prevent deeper cuts to state and local services. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they object to the increases - and Patrick appears to be getting most of the blame.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents opposed the governor’s veto of $4 million in funding for Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. State lawmakers may vote this week to override Patrick’s veto, and zoo officials have threatened to close unless the funding is restored.
But even as residents object to Patrick’s funding cuts for the zoos, few actually visit them. Three-fourths of those polled said they had not been to either zoo within the past two years.
A majority of respondents - 57 percent - said they support Patrick’s plan for casino gambling in three locations in Massachusetts, a slight increase from previous Globe polls. The public overwhelmingly wants resort casinos, which Patrick has pushed, over slot machines at racetracks, which House Speaker Robert DeLeo strongly favors. Sixty percent of respondents favored resort-style casinos, compared with 12 percent preferring slots at racetracks.
And despite Baker’s background at Harvard Pilgrim, voters at this point see Patrick as the best candidate on healthcare, though by a small margin.
Overall, though, voter antipathy for Patrick is clear. Asked, in an open-ended question, to name the biggest problem facing the state, about a third of respondents listed jobs and the economy. Strikingly, nearly 7 percent volunteered Patrick by name.
Massachusetts residents also apparently believe that one-party rule on Beacon Hill has not worked. After 16 years of Republican governors, Patrick’s 2006 victory brought Democratic dominance to the State House. But a plurality of voters surveyed - 46 percent - prefer divided government; even 28 percent of Democrats said so.
Among other political figures, Senator Edward M. Kennedy is viewed favorably by the most people - 60 percent of respondents. Senator John F. Kerry fared worse, with 46 percent viewing him favorably and 44 percent saying they had an unfavorable opinion of him. Attorney General Martha Coakley remains popular, with 56 percent of respondents viewing her favorably and just 15 percent viewing her unfavorably.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com. Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WICKED LOCAL: Belmont, Massachusetts, NEWS-
"Opponents of expanded gambling gear up with closed session"
By Gintautas Dumcius, State House News Service, Thursday, August 6, 2009
Boston, Massachusetts - House proponents of expanded gambling are planning a forum in mid-September to counter a closed-press session Wednesday sponsored by lawmakers opposed to bringing expanded gambling to Massachusetts.
On his way into Wednesday’s forum, Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston) said he and Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Dorchester) were still working out the details and “looking for some national people.”
Expecting an intense debate this fall on expanded gambling, House and Senate lawmakers and their aides packed Wednesday’s forum. The walls separating rooms A-1 and A-2 came down for the hour-long briefing. With a summer recess now in full swing, it was one of the few events of note at the capitol.
Legislators spotted in the crowd included Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, Sen. Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln), and Reps. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), Byron Rushing (D-Boston), and Thomas Conroy (D-Wayland).
Afterward, Wallace dismissed the Wednesday forum as “the same stuff we’re heard for many, many years” and argued that three resort casinos – as Gov. Deval Patrick proposed last year - would bring in 20,000 jobs.
Patrick’s proposal was defeated by a 108 to 46 vote in the House, then led by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a casino opponent. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a supporter of slots at racetracks, and Senate President Therese Murray, openly support expanded gambling.
Forces on both sides are gearing up for another intense debate that’s already attracted heavy lobbying expenses.
In an apparent mix-up over access, an aide to Rep. Daniel Bosley, a staunch opponent of casinos and a co-sponsor of the forum, asked a News Service reporter to leave as the forum got underway, saying it was closed press.
The reporter was admitted back in at the tail end of the forum. Sen. Susan Tucker, an Andover Democrat who was also a forum co-sponsor, told the News Service the forum was open press. An email sent out Tuesday about the forum by Tucker’s office referred to the forum as a briefing for legislators and staff and there was no mention of the forum being closed press.
“This is going to be the issue of our fall session,” Tucker told the crowd.
She added that the State House is “very full of people being paid a lot of money” to push expanded gambling, and urged the attendees – most of them House and Senate aides from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers’ offices – and their bosses to weigh the cost and benefits of casinos.
“We can’t gamble out way out of the fiscal crisis,” she told the News Service. Tucker said she plans similar forums for the future and expects a “raft” of hearings on the gambling proposals before the Legislature.
John Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois, keynoted the Wednesday forum, pointing to a federal gambling impact commission in June 1999 recommending a moratorium on expanded gambling and the re-criminalization of slot machines.
“Why are we even here?” said Kindt, who had testified before the commission. “For every slot machine, you lose one job per year.”
Wallace said Kindt is limiting the argument to one aspect of gambling.
“He’s just talking about slots,” Wallace said. “There’s hotels, conference centers, spas, golfing. It’s a hospitality industry… All the stuff he’s talking about is 10 years old.”
Wallace said his forum would be open to the press.
Gambling, whether the state lottery or casinos, is a means for government and business to administer regressive taxation. Daniel "Bureaucrat" Bosley's position is not one of fiscal equity or even neutrality. Representative Daniel Bosley is not concerned that the State Lottery is a tax on the poor! In fact, Bosley has been quoted as saying that casino gambling will take away from the state Lottery's profit margins. New gambling, Bosley said, would hurt the Lottery more deeply than a sales tax, which was raised by 25% on August 1, 2009, from 5% to 6.25%. Opponents of casino gambling have vested interests in the billion dollar plus state lottery agency. The irony is that both the state lottery and casino gambling are equally inequitable and regressive taxation schemes that place the burden of financing government on the "have nots". I call this phenomenon: "Bosley's Hypocrisy!"
- Jonathan Melle
"Empty coffers, political shifts may bode well for gambling expansion this fall"
By Steve Decosta - email@example.com - southcoasttoday.com - August 16, 2009
Empty coffers, political shifts may bode well for gambling expansion this fall
August 16, 2009 2:00 AMIn Massachusetts, it's all about money and politics. And when their paths converge, the results can be cataclysmic.
The issue of expanded gambling has been kicking around the Statehouse for decades, and so far it has been consistently kicked to the curb by a skeptical, managed House of Representatives.
But now, driven by the desire for new revenue in these times of shrinking tax takes, the issue is back, with legislative leaders promising hearings this fall. And the state's political bedrock has shifted, leading many observers to speculate that casinos and slot machines will become the state's next cash cow.
"I think we'll see a real nasty debate," but "it's pretty clear something is going to pass," said Clyde W. Barrow, who studies the New England gambling landscape as head of UMass Dartmouth's Center for Policy Analysis. "There's too much support in the House. They know the public support is there and the bidders are still lined up."
Legislators on both sides of the argument agree.
"I think we're likely to see a different outcome this time," said state Rep. Robert Koczera, a New Bedford Democrat who has been pushing his own gaming legislation for the past several House sessions.
And even Rep. Michael Rodrigues, a skeptical Westport Democrat who calls gambling "the issue that sucks the life and the oxygen away from every other issue," admits that proponents are gaining ground. "I think there's the greater possibility that it will be different this time," he said. "We have a speaker now who is a proponent."
Politics have changed
It's that change in the political landscape, even more than the increasing need to find additional sources of revenue as the state's tax revenues steadily decline, that has reinvigorated gambling proponents.
In its most recent incarnations, the gaming issue has been expertly steered to defeat by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and his henchman, Rep. Daniel Bosley, the North Adams Democrat who chaired the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies that narrowly issued a negative recommendation on the governor's proposed casino legislation last year.
But now the two are out of the picture. The disgraced DiMasi is awaiting trial on public corruption charges while Bosley has been replaced on the committee by Senate and House chairmen who pledge an open debate on the issue.
DiMasi's replacement, Robert DeLeo, is an open proponent of expanded gambling, particularly slot machines at the state's race tracks. Two of the tracks — Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park — are in his district.
"I've spoken to the speaker on two separate occasions and he's very much open on the question," Koczera said. "That will make a difference in terms of hearings. The role of the speaker is critical."
Rep. Stephen Canessa, a New Bedford Democrat, said, "We have a governor, a Senate president and a House speaker who are all in favor of expanded gaming to different degrees."
Sen. President Therese Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, famously said, "cha-ching" and mimicked pulling a slot-machine lever when asked earlier this year about the prospect of expanded gambling.
Gov. Deval Patrick strongly favors the development of three commercial resort casinos — one each in Southeastern Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts and metropolitan Boston as a means of revenue enhancement and economic development. His plan was soundly defeated, 106 to 48, by the House in March 2008.
A number of observers privately have said that vote might not have been a true reflection of House sentiment. Some members, fearing possible reprisals from the speaker, might have been reluctant to favor a proposal whose outcome was in serious doubt.
"Still, there's a lot of votes to switch," Rep. Rodrigues said. "The speaker may provide some leadership influence, but this is one of the core issues, like the death penalty or abortion, where you've got to stake out your position and it can be difficult to switch."
Not so, said Rep. David Flynn, long a champion of slot machines at the race tracks. "I think the votes are there as long as the speaker supports it."
And now that the Legislature has wrapped up action on this year's state budget and ethics reform, expanded gambling is on the fast track.
"The fact that they're already working with the attorney general on a crime bill, with money laundering and like, to get that legislation out of the way tells me they want to work quickly," Barrow said.
"It's critically important that we do it this fall," Koczera said. "New Hampshire is discussing it. Rhode Island is getting closer and closer to turning Twin River into a full-blown casino."
Still taking shape
While most observers expect something to happen this fall, no one is quite sure what form any legislation will take.
Speaker DeLeo is "now at the point of saying there will be a combination (of casinos and slot machines at the state's race tracks)," Koczera said. "I don't know what that means. I'm not sure where that goes. They're an altogether different type of venue with different clientele."
"I have no sense in what form the issue might come up," Rep. Rodrigues said. "I think it's still all up in the air.
"I think it will be something that comes out of committee. I think they'll take the (bills) that have been filed, roll them up into one and have a committee redraft."
Barrow agreed. "They'll work off some of the bills that have been introduced. They'll probably pick two bills — a slots bill and a casino bill — and somehow work to merge them."
"DeLeo is really favoring slot machines at the tracks," Barrow continued. "The House is interested in generating as much revenue as quickly as possible and they believe slot machines at the tracks could be up and running more quickly. The governor and the Senate president favor resort casinos."
"I think you might get some compromise legislation, either with three casinos and racinos at the two Southeastern Massachusetts tracks or three racinos and two casinos," Barrow said.
And it's looking increasingly likely that any casino destined for Southeastern Massachusetts could end up in New Bedford, Barrow said.
"I think New Bedford is better positioned now than it has been in years," Barrow said. "Although putting slots at the tracks might diminish the value of a casino license in New Bedford a little bit because they're so close, I think it still would work."
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which was granted federal recognition in 2007, has applied to put 539 acres in Middleboro into federal trust as the site for a planned $1 billion casino, but its efforts were thwarted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior does not have the authority to take land into trust for tribes federally recognized after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
While the governor's three-casino plan would have given recognized tribes an unspecified advantage in gaining any available commercial casino licenses, the tribe has not moved in that direction.
"Everybody in the state has talked to (the Mashpee Wampanoag) and told them they have a guaranteed license if they partner with a commercial casino operator and move it to New Bedford," Barrow said. "But they're still sticking to their official line that they're trying to change the legislation in Congress, even though everybody is telling them that's not going to happen.
"They're not even part of the discussion on Beacon Hill at this point," he said.
The only announced effort to bring a casino to New Bedford is a bid by Northeast Resorts of Longmeadow, which holds options on 35 acres of prime real estate just south of Interstate 195 on which it hopes to build a $1 billion casino.
"Southeastern Mass. is, in my opinion, ideally suited for a casino," Rep. Koczera said. "It's not a panacea, but the area would benefit greatly in a time of job loss.
His colleague, Rep. Rodrigues, disagreed.
"If you look at the states with gambling, they're in worse shape than we are," Rodrigues said. "They have higher tax rates, higher unemployment; they're a mess."
"The industry will promise you anything to get their foot in the door," he continued. "Twin River is a perfect example. In Rhode Island, they accepted a 60 percent tax on gaming revenue. Now, when that didn't work, they'll file bankruptcy and they'll come out of it with a different payout and they got what they wanted."
The Boston Globe - Op-Ed: RICK LORD AND JIM STERGIOS
"Casino jobs aren’t enough"
By Rick Lord and Jim Stergios, August 16, 2009
LAST YEAR, House opposition stopped Governor Patrick’s proposal to build three resort casinos in Massachusetts. With a worsening fiscal crisis and Speaker Robert DeLeo taking a more casino-friendly stance than his predecessor, the issue is sure to reemerge this fall.
Proponents argue that casinos will add new tax revenue and much-needed jobs - a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce study estimates that three resort casinos would add between 10,000 and 11,500 temporary construction jobs and 17,000 to 21,000 permanent jobs. Opponents cite the societal costs associated with gambling.
Our organizations haven’t taken a position on casinos. But we believe the much bigger issue is that while the country added about 25 million jobs over the last two decades, the number of jobs in Massachusetts stayed the same.
Flat job growth is not a strategy for long-term success. Skilled workers have made Massachusetts a leading destination for high-paying jobs. But focusing only on high-end employment is a recipe for disaster, creating a society of haves and have-nots. Broader job growth creates social mobility, encourages affordability, and enhances the region’s ability to attract the best talent.
Creating a level playing field should be the foundation of an overall vision for long-term job growth. It begins with streamlining the process for starting a business. Massachusetts must be a destination that holds opportunity for new immigrants and other start-up entrepreneurs, not just the established and affluent. And while Massachusetts will never be inexpensive, costs matter, and there is much that can be done to reduce them.
A 2006 study prepared by Global Insight for Pioneer Institute found that the cost of land was the source of the state’s high residential and commercial rents, wages, and overall cost of living. The problem often stems from rigid local zoning ordinances that discourage development. In the midst of a deep recession, it’s easy to lose sight of problems such as the supply of affordable commercial space not keeping up with demand. But over time, this has been a main driver of rising costs, making each new job more expensive to create.
The cost of employer-provided health insurance continues to rise much faster than inflation. The Commonwealth’s 2006 health care reform law was a first step toward addressing the problem. It has successfully expanded access to health insurance, but a laser-like focus on cost containment will be necessary if it is ultimately to succeed.
Massachusetts’ cost of electricity, one of the highest in the nation, is also hindering economic growth. With the state’s reliance on expensive fuels to generate power, escalating costs to replace an aging infrastructure, and the willingness to constantly add surcharges to customer bills to fund unproven renewable technologies and other costly experimental programs, further double-digit rate increases are certain.
Massachusetts employers also pay more than $1.5 billion annually in unemployment insurance taxes - double the national average on a per-employee basis. The taxes support a system that offers the richest benefits in the country, and one in which it’s easier to qualify for benefits and recipients can collect for longer than in other states.
With people hurting across the state, this isn’t the time to cut unemployment benefits. But a set of reforms proposed last year by Associated Industries of Massachusetts would have saved $366 million without slashing benefits.
Today, businesses in seasonal industries like construction and tourism routinely lay off the same employees every year, using unemployment benefits as kind of a payroll subsidy. Some small-business owners take advantage of this loophole by laying themselves off and collecting for part of each year. Charging those companies much higher unemployment insurance tax rates would provide a disincentive for bad behavior and lighten the load for companies that aren’t abusing the system.
Whether to build casinos in Massachusetts is an issue that merits spirited debate. But casinos alone aren’t nearly enough to make up for the Commonwealth’s failure to grow jobs. Regardless of how the casino debate turns out, state policymakers should spend far more time and effort on reforms that will spur substantial long-term job growth.
Rick Lord is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Jim Stergios is executive director of Pioneer Institute.
"Gaming options gather steam: Lawmakers talk, developers scurry"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, August 24, 2009
Real estate executives controlling the Bayside Exposition Center in Dorchester have floated their property as a potential casino site. Town leaders in Warren have formed a group to study the implications of having a casino in their Central Massachusetts community. State lawmakers are meeting behind closed doors to weigh a wide variety of options for expanded gambling.
With gaming back atop the agenda this fall on Beacon Hill, there’s a flurry of activity among casino developers, landowners, politicians, and lobbyists, all of whom are looking ahead to what is likely to be the most friendly climate to date toward bringing casinos, and possibly slot machines, to Massachusetts.
Top lawmakers have yet to set dates for hearings, and they are mum on what form the debate may take. But with the issue possibly surfacing as early as next month, and with a powerful opponent of expanded gambling, former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, now out of office, the race is on.
“Lots and lots of meetings going on, and lots of discussions in the preparatory stage for what looks like the real debate,’’ said state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who is the Senate’s point person on casinos. “We’ve had some good run-ups to this, but this is where the rubber is really going to meet the road.’’
Rosenberg said a range of options are being discussed, including licensing only slot machines at racetracks; allowing only resort-style casinos; providing slot machines at bars and restaurants; or some combination.
One option that some are floating involves the licensing of two casinos - one in Eastern Massachusetts, one in Western Massachusetts - and then allowing slots at Plainridge and Raynham Park racetracks.
“I know there’s enough votes to do gaming this year,’’ said state Representative Brian Wallace, a South Boston Democrat and strong casino advocate. “I just don’t know what form it will be.’’
State Representative Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat and the point person studying casinos in the House, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment last week. A spokesman for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo released a statement saying only that “it is far too premature to comment on the merits of any one proposal at this time.’’
Governor Deval Patrick, who last year unsuccessfully pushed a plan to license three resort casinos, is expected to adopt a lower profile on the issue this time around. Patrick officials did not respond to requests for comment.
DeLeo, Patrick, and Senate President Therese Murray have all expressed support for expanded gambling, but have not agreed on its form. DeLeo has voiced support for slot machines at racetracks, while Patrick has envisioned resort casino developments; Murray has not expressed any preference publicly.
Meanwhile, preparations are underway around the state.
As for Bayside, it’s unclear how seriously the owners or operators of the site have pursued plans for a potential casino. Representatives of the facility’s managing company, Ballantine Management Group, were unavailable for comment.
If such a plan goes forward, it could represent a direct challenge to Suffolk Downs in East Boston, which has been a front-runner for a casino development in Greater Boston and has the backing of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Out in Warren, selectmen recently decided to establish a Casino Study Committee, and have been soliciting volunteers.
“We should be prepared for anything,’’ said Robert Souza, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “It’s basically to protect the community, to make sure we’re prepared and understand what happens when a gaming company comes to our community, or near it.’’
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority owns four parcels in Warren totaling 208 acres, according to state records, and the property has been eyed as a possible casino site. The Turnpike Authority in 2002 explored a plan to lease land to a casino developer.
“As we look for nontoll revenues to take the burden off tollpayers, we’re sitting on 200 acres in Warren,’’ former Turnpike Authority chairman Matt Amorello told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in January 2003. “There’s not a better location in the Commonwealth.’’
No plan was ever hatched, and the state agency has not been in any discussions with casino developers about using the land, according to spokesman Colin Durrant.
State Senator Michael Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat, has also been a strong advocate for siting a casino in Warren. Morrissey filed legislation that would give a preference to land that is owned by the state, a municipality, or state authorities. Under his proposal, the state would lease the land to a casino developer.
“Why wouldn’t you want to enrich the Commonwealth before you enrich some private landowner?’’ he said.
Another privately owned parcel in Warren has also been on the circuit for potential casino developers.
But any casino developer in Warren would have to make up significant ground. Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut has plans to build a casino in neighboring Palmer, and for months has been laying political groundwork for the site.
In May, Mohegan Sun set up a storefront location to drum up local support for a proposal that includes a 600-room hotel, a spa, a casino, restaurants, and shops.
“We’re there; we have a presence,’’ said Jeffrey Hartmann, chief operating officer of Mohegan Sun. “We looked at sites all over the Commonwealth, and it’s probably not only the best site in Western Massachusetts but the whole Commonwealth.’’
There are several other developers who have hired lobbyists and expressed interest in Massachusetts previously, but have not announced any plans, including Steve Wynn, one of the most famous casino moguls in the world; Boyd Gaming Corp., a Las Vegas-based casino company that has 16 gambling sites; Penn National Gaming, which operates 19 facilities throughout the country; and Station Casinos Inc., which has 18 casinos in Nevada.
Gary Loveman, a Massachusetts resident and chief executive at Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., has been interested in having a presence in his home state, possibly by partnering with Suffolk Downs. Sheldon Adelson, a Dorchester native and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., has sought to develop land near Marlborough.
“It looks like it will become a reality rather than just a conversation we have every couple of years,’’ said state Representative Todd Smola, Republican from Warren. “It’s a very, very divisive issue, the most divisive I’ve dealt with since being in the Legislature.’’
Some critics of expanded gaming are warning that the gambling issue needs to be fully vetted.
“I don’t think the average person, or even the average legislator, has a full grasp of the magnitude of what needs to be considered,’’ added Kathleen Conley Norbut, a resident of Monson and a member of the group United to Stop Slots in Mass.
Rosenberg said that with the debate now heating up, the biggest mistake the state can make is to rush the process.
“If we do this,’’ he said, “we’re going to live with this for a long time.’’
Globe correspondent Jack Nicas contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Casinos get boost as DeLeo signs on: Joins Patrick, Murray in push for gaming"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, September 19, 2009
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo expressed strong support yesterday for bringing resort-style casinos to Massachusetts, one of the clearest indications yet that lawmakers are poised to expand gambling as they seek fresh revenues in a down economy.
In a separate speech yesterday morning, Senate President Therese Murray also made the case that Massachusetts should legalize casinos, asserting that they would bring hundreds of new jobs and capture money currently going to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
The comments by DeLeo and Murray put the state’s top three political leaders on similar ground in support of resort-style casinos for the first time as the Legislature plans to begin considering a major bill as early as next month.
DeLeo has been a supporter of expanded gambling, but in the past has put an emphasis on installing slot machines at racetracks instead of building resort-style casinos complete with amenities such as hotels, shops, and golf courses.
“Given the importance of economic development, as well as the vital need for revenue, I have expanded my thinking,’’ DeLeo said in an address in Waltham to a meeting of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “In addition to my backing of slots, I now support resort casinos.’’
At about the same time, Murray, speaking to the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, said: “The reality is that hundreds of millions of dollars are going to Connecticut casinos from Massachusetts residents every year. We need to explore ways how we can capture that revenue.’’
She said building casinos would means hundreds of construction jobs, as well as permanent employment once the casinos open.
In an interview yesterday, DeLeo said House lawmakers are drafting legislation, with hearings likely to begin next month.
A debate before the full House, he said, could begin before lawmakers recess in mid-November, but seems more likely early next year.
Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to license three resort casinos was defeated last year, in large part because of opposition by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
With DiMasi now out of office, the debate has shifted dramatically: It is no longer about whether Massachusetts will see expanded gaming, but when and in what form.
“What has interested me all along is the jobs and the revenue,’’ Patrick told reporters yesterday in the Berkshires. “And I think there is a way to do this that maximizes the jobs and revenues and minimizes - not eliminates, minimizes - the adverse impacts.’’
Still, the casino industry has struggled mightily with the economic downturn, forcing many developers to scale back projects and focus on retaining their current properties, rather than on adding new ones.
The Globe reported Sunday that Foxwoods in Connecticut, which has long been a success story in the casino industry, laid off about 6 percent of its workforce last year and saw its revenues from slot machines plunge 13 percent in July, compared with the previous year.
Nonetheless, DeLeo cast the plan yesterday as a ministimulus package for Massachusetts, one he said would bring in new revenues and create jobs as the state seeks to recover economically.
“I’m still trying to formulate my ideas, but I’m hoping this will not just be a gaming bill, but also an economic development one,’’ DeLeo said in the interview.
“I’m just really concerned about the future,’’ he said. “I think the only way we’re going to get out of this economy is jobs, jobs, and more jobs.’’
He also said that lagging state revenues are an incentive to find a new source of money.
That argument may have more urgency after Patrick announced yesterday that he expects to make further spending cuts this year because of falling revenues.
“I don’t see an appetite for new taxes, and we don’t have much left in the rainy day fund,’’ DeLeo said. “We need to bring in new revenue.’’
He also argued that slot machines could be installed quickly at the racetracks, bringing in new revenues, while giving casino companies more time to build resort casinos, which would create new construction jobs.
DeLeo said one option that may be considered involves the licensing of two casinos, one in Eastern Massachusetts, one in Western Massachusetts, and then allowing slots at Plainridge and Raynham Park racetracks.
But when asked about installing slots at racetracks, Murray said she is “not hot on that, but I’m going to listen.’’
“That’s fast money,’’ she said in an interview. “But is it sustainable?’’
She cited Twin River in Rhode Island, which relies on slots and filed for bankruptcy in June.
She said several senators have been working on different proposals over the summer, but added that it will take time to put together the regulatory framework that would allow casino developers to begin building.
“It’s really a three-year process,’’ she said. “If we’re going to do it, we need to start.’’
Many specifics have to be worked out, including how many casinos would be licensed, whether there would be any preference given to a Native American tribe, and how potential developers would secure the rights to build.
Casino developers have been closely monitoring the gambling debate in Massachusetts and have scoured the state for land and partnerships.
Mohegan Sun in Connecticut has been laying the groundwork to build a casino in Palmer, a small community near Springfield. Several developers have looked at land in neighboring Warren.
Suffolk Downs in East Boston has been jockeying for the past two years, securing key political backing and trying to ensure that it has the inside track on a Boston-area casino. Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere has joined with Suffolk Downs to compete for one casino license.
One potential wrinkle is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose attempt to use its federal rights to open a casino in Middleborough has been derailed by a US Supreme Court ruling.
There are several other developers who have hired lobbyists and expressed interest in Massachusetts previously, but have not announced specific plans.
Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"No vote on casinos coming up this year, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray say"
By Dan Ring, The (Springfield) Republican (Online), September 29, 2009
BOSTON – Top legislators on Beacon Hill said they won’t take up a casino bill until sometime after Jan. 1.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, told reporters on Monday that no vote will be held on casinos this fall, despite the expectations of some lobbyists and legislators.
DeLeo said that a gambling bill will be complex because it must include regulations, a tax on revenues, treatment for problem gamblers and a process for siting casinos.
Seth Gitell, the spokesman for DeLeo, said on Tuesday that the speaker’s intention is to have a casino bill ready for debate in the House sometime in January.
“He’s not backing away from this,” Gitell said. “His commitment to this issue will remain strong.”
Murray said that formal sessions this year end on Nov. 18 and then pick up again in January.
“We’ll continue to work on whatever comes out of the hearing process as we move forward and hopefully be able to take it up early in the next part of the session,” Murray said.
A casino bill is expected to start in the state House of Representatives, meaning it faces an uncertain future.
The House last year voted 108-46 against Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s bill for three casino resorts.
DeLeo, Murray and Patrick all support casinos as a way to boost government revenues and create jobs.
During a speech in Waltham on Sept. 18 in front of an employer group, DeLeo said he supports casino resorts and slots at the tracks. Previously, DeLeo, who has a horse and dog track in his legislative district, only backed slot machines for the tracks and was open to casinos.
The Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies plans a public hearing next month on casino bills. No date has been set.
Rep. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley, a vice chairman of the committee, said on Tuesday the speaker is right to delay a House vote on a casino bill.
“This is a significant issue and one we have to look at very carefully,” Scibak said. “It’s a decision you don’t want to make too quickly.”
Jeffrey E. Hartmann, chief operating officer at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., said on Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised the House will hold a vote on casinos in the new year and not this fall.
Hartmann said it’s probably a positive sign that legislators are being pragmatic in their approach to casinos.
“The time will allow us to continue to do field work and introduce Mohegan Sun to residents of Western Massachusetts,” Hartmann said.
The Mohegan Sun is proposing a casino resort in Palmer across from Exit 8 on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The casino would include 3,000 to 4,000 slot machines, table games, poker, a hotel and retail.
Hartmann said the Mohegan Sun is not commenting on a pricetag for the cost to develop the casino until a final bill that would dictate a tax rate on casino revenues and any possible upfront payments.
A casino opponent, Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, said it makes sense to hold a casino debate after Jan. 1.
Bosley said that DeLeo would need to turn around many votes in the House, considering last year’s vote against Patrick’s casino bill.
“The speaker would have to flip a lot of votes,” Bosley said.
Kathleen C. Norbut, of Monson, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, said that she is “absolutely pleased” that legislators are delaying a vote on casinos until next year.
“I am hoping legislators will do their job and not vote on anything before they do a cost-benefit analysis,” Norbut said.
Material from the Statehouse News Service was used in this report.
The Boston Globe Online, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"Keeping a poker face on gambling"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, October 11, 2009
‘KA-CHING’’ IS on hold in Massachusetts.
A vote on gambling legislation - originally expected before the end of 2009 - is unlikely to take place until 2010. The desire to get it right is the official reason for the delay.
But Kathleen Conley Norbut, a Monson Democrat who heads a new statewide coalition that opposes expanded gambling, offers another explanation. “I don’t believe they have the votes,’’ said Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts. “It’s not a done deal.’’
That’s hard to believe, given the political fire power behind the pro-gambling brigade. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, and Governor Deval Patrick are all on board. In a recent WBUR radio interview, Murray - who coined “Ka-ching’’ to describe gambling - said its expansion in Massachusetts is “inevitable.’’
But there are reasons for delay.
Massachusetts is in the midst of a special election to fill the US Senate seat left open by the death of Edward M. Kennedy. One candidate is Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office must craft and enforce any regulatory legislation. Norbut’s group wants the AG to come out against casinos. Murray, an avid Coakley-for-Senate supporter, could be inclined to get her candidate off the hook by delaying the issue until after the December primary.
The antigambling coalition is also targeting Patrick as he gets ready to run for reelection. A Patrick coordinator during the 2006 governor’s race, Norbut said the people behind her group make up the heart of the governor’s progressive base.
“Since when in Massachusetts do we start to believe in using the vulnerability of one class of people to benefit another class of people?’’ asked Norbut. She contends that Patrick’s base exploded when he backed casinos and is “still shattered’’ by it.
She may be overstating their resentment. Still, the 400 delegates who attended the most recent Democratic state convention passed a resolution declaring that the “Massachusetts Democratic Party, as a matter of both principle and policy, opposes the legalization of slot machines and any similar efforts to promote addictive and predatory gambling as a means of raising public revenues.’’
Norbut’s website proclaims that “having a voice in the democratic process and being a voice for those who cannot express their needs is one of my fundamental life missions.’’ Put that sweet sentiment up against the lobbyists, race track owners, and casino operators who are dedicated to turning Massachusetts into a gambler’s paradise and opponents face a rather uneven playing field.
Salvatore F. DiMasi, their patron antigambling saint, is gone as speaker of the House and under indictment for other State House-related business. The Bay State’s antigambling movement is left to hope the old divisions between slots and casino interests and competing geographic areas work as usual to derail consensus.
Scott Harshbarger, a former attorney general and ardent antigambling crusader, believes that any delay is good news for opponents. After the deal-making on Beacon Hill in the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, said Harshbarger, “They don’t dare run in and immediately convene a session on casinos.’’
Last month, the antigambling coalition headed by Norbut sent a letter to lawmakers, urging them to conduct “an independent cost-benefit, data-driven analysis of expanded gambling before legalizing slots or any form of predatory gambling.’’ According to Norbut, the group met with Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and plans to meet with other top Patrick administration officials to make its position known.
With casinos and racinos going bankrupt across the country, opponents are also making the case that the old arguments about how much gambling helps the local economy are less valid than ever.
Given the stakes, the political arguments speak more loudly than any economic equation. Does Patrick want to further enrage his base, by signing gambling legislation during an election year? The progressive wing of his party has no alternative candidate. But Norbut warns that grass-roots supporters can and will stay home on Election Day if Patrick pushes his gambling agenda down their throats.
Politics is a lot like poker. You have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Casinos: Pledge signed by local legislators to locate casino in Western Massachusetts, unlikely to have much impact, critics say"
By Dan Ring, The (Springfield) Republican (Online), masslive.com - October 26, 2009
BOSTON – A pledge to site a casino in Western Massachusetts, taken by 10 local legislators, is unlikely to carry much weight on Beacon Hill, critics say.
The pledge, developed by local construction unions, attempts to tell legislators how to vote on casinos. But even several signers are downplaying the significance of the effort.
“I don’t think any of us read the pledge,” said state Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield.
Buoniconti and nine other legislators from Western Massachusetts signed a pledge saying they will not support expanded gambling unless a bill includes a casino for the four counties in the region.
Rep. Todd M. Smola, R-Palmer, said he won’t put his pen to anything that limits an area for casinos to four counties.
“They’re putting the cart before the horse by establishing these boundaries,” Smola said. “Let’s see what the legislation looks like, and then we’ll have a formidable debate.”
The 10 legislators who took the vow did so during a meeting on Oct. 2 with leaders of the Pioneer Valley’s construction unions. They were the only legislators who attended the meeting, and they didn’t know ahead of time they would be signing the pledge, Buoniconti said.
Daniel D’Alma, president of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades, offered the pledge, and legislators walked up to an easel and signed it on a piece of paper.
Legislators did not receive copies of the pledge, according to D’Alma.
The pledge comes as a debate on casino sites is heating up.
A marathon legislative hearing on gambling bills is expected to draw a huge crowd starting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Statehouse.
Ahead of the hearing, officials with the Mohegan Sun are hosting “a community conversation” open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel. The Mohegan Sun is proposing a resort casino in Palmer across from Exit 8 on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Other casino companies are also lining up for a license and are expected to join Mohegan officials in testifying on Thursday.
Earlier this month, developers outlined plans for a casino resort off Interstate 495 in Milford in Worcester County. The Mashpee Wampanoag are still pushing a casino for Middleboro.
The Suffolk Downs race track in Boston is angling for a casino.
Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow, said legislators will vote on whether to legalize casinos, but they also may vote on whether create a special commission to decide the locations and number of casinos. A commission would remove legislators from any siting decisions.
“If I vote for casino gaming, I’m voting for it because it generates new revenues for Massachusetts,” Petrolati said.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who has opposed casinos in the past, said he won’t sign the pledge if asked.
“I generally don’t believe in those sorts of pledges,” Kulik said. “It’s a hypothetical that tends to box people into positions.”
One legislator who took the vow, Rep. Peter V. Kocot, D-Northampton, said it makes a strong statement to assure Western Massachusetts and other areas are recognized and treated fairly in any casino bill.
Kocot signed the pledge but added that he hasn’t decided whether to support casinos. “I don’t feel boxed in at all,” he said.
Buoniconti said he also doesn’t feel restricted by the pledge. “The all-or-nothing premise could hurt our region,” he said. “I don’t want to see that happen.”
Besides Buoniconti and Kocot, the pledge was signed by Reps. Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera, Sean F. Curran, Angelo J. Puppolo and Benjamin Swan, all Springfield Democrats.
The other signers included Reps. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley, James T. Welch, D-West Springfield, Rosemary Sandlin, D-Agawam, and Aaron Saunders, chief of staff for Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham.
Scibak said he is not making any commitments and is open-minded on casinos.
“I have a problem with people trying to pin me down on any legislation without seeing the entire language,” he said.
The pledge simply states: “We will not support any casino gaming legislation unless it includes a site in Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties).”
D’Alma, the union president, said unemployment is about 30 to 40 percent among the 5,000 members of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades. He said he may ask other legislators to sign the pledge.
Some legislators said they are taking the pledge seriously.
“I’d like to see a casino in Western Massachusetts,” Curran said. “If we don’t designate one in the bill, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t vote for it.”
Coakley-Rivera said she will abide by the pledge and oppose any casino bill without a site in Western Massachusetts.
“I have no problem voting against the bill,” she said. “There’s nothing for Western Massachusetts to gain by a having a casino outside Western Massachusetts.”
Reps. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, and William Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said they are opposed to casinos and expanded gambling.
Story said the pledge won’t be a defining aspect of the debate on casinos.
“I think it will be politely considered, but I doubt it would be what defines the placement of casinos if we too have expanded gambling,” Story said.
Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said he is neither for nor against casinos. Rosenberg said he is remaining neutral because he accepted an assignment by the Senate president to research the issue and adjudicate differences during the debate.
Rosenberg did say the pledge could be a “constructive contribution” to a casino debate. “Saying you want one in Western Massachusetts is not harmful,” he said.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said he will listen to the pros and cons at Thursday’s hearing and then introduce his own bill in January.
DeLeo has said his bill may not specify casino sites.
Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, said signers of the pledge were put on the spot by the union leaders.
“I do think it’s unfair for them to go to a meeting ... and then get held up for this one issue,” said Bosley, who opposes casinos.
Several legislators said they opposed casinos in the past but they are keeping open minds.
Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he wouldn’t have signed the pledge. Downing said he will decide on casinos when a bill is in front of him.
Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, says he doesn’t sign pledges and is undecided on casinos.
Wagner said he would be open to casinos under a couple of conditions, including a commitment from the governor that Western Massachusetts would receive a license for a casino resort.
Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, suggested it would be premature to sign such a pledge. “You do not play your cards until they are dealt to you,” he said.
Brewer said the pledge “presupposes the legislative process.” He said it won’t hold any weight because the “legislative process if far too complicated.”
Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, also said she will not sign the pledge. Of the communities she represents, only Ware is in one of the four counties identified in the pledge.
Staff writers Chris Hamel, Diane Lederman, Pamela H. Metaxas, Mike Plaisance, Lori Stabile and David A. Vallette contributed to this report.
"Panel grapples with economic, social questions on casinos"
By Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe Staff, October 30, 2009
The slogans and philosophical arguments spilled forth yesterday during a long, packed hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies:
■ Save the Massachusetts economy with resort destination casinos.
■ Save jobs at the state’s dog tracks by allowing slot machines.
■ Save the state from itself by blocking casino expansion.
It was the first in a series of hearings on the contentious casino issue before the panel, which faces an array of 16 separate gambling measures and the task of merging ideas to produce a new gambling bill as early as January.
While many of the arguments were familiar, the gambling push has an air of near-inevitability: For the first time in years, all three political leaders on Beacon Hill support expanded gambling.
While Governor Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray had been pushing for casinos, former House speaker Salvatore DiMasi actively blocked it last year, before he was replaced by Robert A. DeLeo, who has long supported slot machines, but who last month also came out strongly in favor of resort-style casinos. The Legislature is expected to cull elements from the bills before them and introduce a new gambling bill as early as January.
Given the current economic recession and the governor’s announcement yesterday that he may eliminate 1,000 to 2,000 state jobs, labor and business leaders seized on casinos with open desperation, saying that the threat of social ills from gambling could be managed while the devastating realities of unemployment could not be.
“There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more debilitating and difficult to deal with than not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from,’’ said Bob Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “Destination resort gaming offers hope to families that are struggling, plain and simple. And where else will we get this potentially large infusion of revenue?
“How many other industries are willing to come into this Commonwealth and actually pay to play with licensing fees?’’ Haynes added. “How many more firefighters and police officers are we going to have to lay off? We can fix pretty much any problem. Unemployement is unfixable unless you have a job.’’
But even Haynes cautioned that casino gambling could not be viewed as a panacea.
Gambling opponents leaped on reports of economic hardships, even for casinos, to challenge the assumption that it could be a salve for current economic woes. Twin Rivers casino in Rhode Island, for example, is facing bankruptcy and seeking a bailout from the state.
“It’s the worst possible time we could be considering casino gambling,’’ said state Senator Susan C. Tucker, an Andover Democrat on the committee. “Casinos all over the country are going bankrupt.’’
What the economy needs now is for consumers to spend their money at local businesses, she said, prompting one union member to grumble from the gallery, “We don’t have any money.’’
Tucker challenged supporters’ estimates of the millions in economic activity that casinos could bring to Massachusetts. “Start subtracting,’’ she said, adding that those profits would be cut by costs, including new regulations and government employees needed to oversee and audit the new industry.
She said she would prefer to see growth in areas such as one she is promoting in her district in Lawrence, developing old mills into affordable housing. “We have choices about where we grow jobs in Massachusetts,’’ she said.
The testimony drew a wide array of speakers and interest groups, from the leaders of the state’s largest labor and business organizations to a small group from Palmer, a community near Springfield where Mohegan Sun of Connecticut has proposed a casino. (They wore matching navy T-shirts that said “Palmer + Casinos = Jobs.’’)
Mohegan Sun’s chief operating officer spoke, as did the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The tribe’s plans for a casino were embraced by the town of Middleborough in 2007 but ensnared by a court decision since.
And individuals from quiet corners of the state rose in Gardner Auditorium to offer their own impassioned pleas.
While opponents offered a sometimes hyperbolic view of gambling and academics likened its influence on the brain to that of cocaine, defenders said casinos would increase legitimate jobs for working-class people.
Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein, a Revere Democrat, said she found it insulting that opponents suggest that casino jobs are not real and that they know what is best for people in her neighborhood.
“I’ll tell you what the majority of my neighbors and I want,’’ said Reinstein, who said she once worked in a casino. “We want gaming. We want the jobs. We want the revenue.’’
A potentially devastating impact on families was cited as a primary reason for opposing gambling and slot machines in particular.
“Why is this not being considered a consumer protection issue when slot machines are very carefully designed to addict people and then to swindle them for everything they have?’’ asked Evelyn T. Reilly, director of public policy for the Massachusetts Family Institute. She contended that, based on estimates of the reach of problem gambling, the addition of several casinos in the state would affect millions of people. “We’re talking here about potentially impacting negatively two out of three people in the state,’’ she said.
A legislator offered dramatic personal testimony about the harrowing effects of gambling in his own family.
Representative Carl M. Sciortino Jr., a Somerville Democrat, said one of his close relatives lost his job, his apartment, and ended up committing suicide “because of the challenge and shame and the struggle,’’ of a gambling addiction.
“There’s no amount of money that can fix the damage that’s been done,’’ Sciortino said.
"Gambling addiction treatment agency could fold"
By Jim O’Sullivan/State House News Service, via Wicked Local BELMONT with news from the Belmont Citizen-Herald, November 9, 2009
Boston, Massachusetts - As state policymakers ramp up the push for casinos and slot machines here, the non-profit agency that treats problem gamblers is facing extinction after a 62-percent cut in funding.
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling could be forced to close this year, after Gov. Deval Patrick halved its state aid as part of his midyear budget-balancing efforts and the agency lost another $130,000 due to a drop-off in income from the state’s four racetracks, a top official said.
“We’re definitely threatened and we’re trying to figure out how to recoup some funding,” said the Council’s executive director, Kathy Scanlan. The Council has contacted the Patrick administration and was waiting to hear back about setting a meeting, she said.
Both Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have voiced recent support for expanded gambling, while Gov. Deval Patrick, after pushing hard for casinos last year, has ratcheted down his enthusiasm.
Pro-gambling House members huddled Monday in a closed-door briefing on gambling with industry experts, including Scanlan, to field questions from other legislators and aides.
Emerging from the briefing for a press conference, some lawmakers said they wanted to ensure a dedicated revenue stream in whatever legislation may pass to treat gambling addictions, and said they were confident the odds of expanded gambling had increased.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Brian Wallace, a South Boston Democrat and longtime gambling backer.
“We certainly feel good about the progress we’ve made in the last couple months,” Wallace said.
The House is expected to vote Tuesday on legislation extending off-track betting rights at the state’s two dog tracks, essentially creating off-track betting parlors there by January, when the facilities will be hit with a voter-approved ban on dog racing.
The Council said it logged 1,305 calls to its helpline in fiscal 2008, resulting in 1,080 referrals to the Department of Public Health, self-help groups, and other services. That year, 95 percent of its funding flowed through the Department of Public Health.
Scanlan said the Council’s landlord had agreed to cut its rent in half, to roughly $35,000. She said the agency was considering other sources of funding as it formulated a “survival strategy.” Patrick announced a $500,000 cut to the agency’s $1 million line item last month.
Appearing with the pro-casino lawmakers Monday, Scanlan said the state would likely see increased social problems related to gambling if casinos were introduced.
Patrick last week said the state could expect “real human costs.”
“I don't want anybody in the Legislature to be thinking about expanded gaming as a quote fix unquote for the fiscal challenges facing the commonwealth. It's not. It's not," Patrick said during an appearance 96.9FM-WTKK.
"It's another job-creating opportunity, which has to be done right and because there are real human costs,” he continued. “That has to be faced. There are real human costs. We have to be very, very clear and careful about the regulatory framework that that business comes into."
Asked Monday about any plans to come to the Council’s aid, Patrick said, “There are lots and lots of worthy programs and agencies that are squeezed because of the fiscal crisis we are in. We’re going to do the very best we can with them, as we do with other agencies.”
Rep. Daniel Bosley, who helped lead the House opposition that ultimately killed Patrick’s casino plan on a 100-55 procedural vote last year, said he thought Patrick might be reconsidering his support.
“I think the governor has taken a second look at this, and I think he realizes that even in the best case scenario it would have to be perfectly drawn to realize any new revenue at all,” the North Adams Democrat said Tuesday.
Even within the pro-gambling caucus, there are fault lines along the details of any expansion.
House Dean David Flynn turned on labor officials joining him at Monday’s press conference and conveyed his disappointment unions have not come out more forcefully behind his effort to sanction slot machines at the state racetracks.
Organized labor for the most part has kept its powder dry for the larger fight over resort-style casinos, after long years of stumping for the racetracks only to be disappointed when deals fell apart.
Flynn kept up his criticism after the formal portion of the presser, corralling Mass. Building Trades Council president Francis Callahan and repeatedly telling him he was “very disappointed” unions had not been more active in working for slot machines at the tracks.
“I want you to endorse my proposal tomorrow,” Flynn told Callahan, who responded that Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park, for which Flynn is an ardent Beacon Hill advocate, should allow more workers to unionize.
During the press conference, Flynn told reporters, “I think that the message from the governor has been rather lukewarm, but I don’t think it’s a danger signal. I really think, from the position we’re in, and the financial plight of the coffers of the Commonwealth. I would think that the governor would sign whatever is placed on his desk.”
Several lawmakers who took part in the earlier briefing said they had been unaware it was closed to the public. Rep. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham), who has pushed for track slot machines, said the briefing should have been public.
“I think that open and frank dialogue between all the parties that have an interest in expanded gaming makes it a better chance that the institution as a whole would make an informed decision,” Ross said after the briefing.
Kathi-Anne Reinstein, the Revere Democrat who organized the briefing, said the session was closed so members and aides would “feel comfortable to ask any questions without having any type of criticism.”
"House Speaker Robert DeLeo unveils gaming proposal"
By Dan Ring, The (Springfield) Republican, March 4, 2010
BOSTON – House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo on Thursday spelled out more details on his proposal to expand gaming, saying he supports only two casino resorts in the state and a limited amount of slot machines at each of the state’s four race tracks.
Referring to a recent study that said the state is plagued by a “blue collar depression,” the Winthrop Democrat called for a new gaming industry to go along with the state’s traditional economic engines such as health care, financial services and tourism.
“I have cautioned before and I will caution again: gaming is not a panacea,” DeLeo said during a speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on the same day the state reported the unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent in January, up from a revised 9.3 percent in December. “But it is a plan that creates a new economic sector and new jobs in Massachusetts when we need them most.”
DeLeo is a longtime supporter of slots at the tracks including two in his district, Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere. In October, he said he would also support two or three casino resorts.
DeLeo did not specify sites for his proposed two casino resorts, saying legislators should not get involved in siting.
DeLeo is expected to file legislation at the end of this month for a possible debate in April by the state House of Representatives.
The outcome could have big implications for Western Massachusetts. The Mohegan Sun, which operates a casino resort in Uncasville, Conn., is proposing a casino for Palmer off Exit 8 of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
DeLeo said the exact number of slot machines for each track is a work in progress.
Kathleen C. Norbut, of Monson, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, said DeLeo’s proposal was not a surprise.
Norbut said legislators should finance an independent analysis of the costs and benefits of slots and casinos, which she said will hurt local businesses, addict more people and steal revenue from the state Lottery.
“Slots and casinos are a drain on local economies,” Norbut said. “We don’t see it as sound economic development.”
Jeffrey E. Hartmann, chief operating officer of the Mohegan Sun, said he was very pleased with the speaker’s comments.
He said the Palmer casino would create 1,000 construction jobs and up to 3,000 permanent jobs.
“A destination resort casino in Western Massachusetts will provide excellent job opportunities for people who are looking to begin a new career path, deliver meaningful economic impact in one of the regions where it is needed most, and create long term revenue for the entire Commonwealth,” Hartmann said in a statement.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick, who came out against slots at the tracks in December, told reporters that he is sticking with that position.
“The point is that slots at the tracks are not where the jobs are,” Patrick told reporters at the Statehouse. “Where the jobs are is in the resort-casino destination setting.”
Patrick said he is concerned that “we’ll get the slots, but we won’t get the casinos. We need the jobs. The jobs come with the casinos.”
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said she looks forward to seeing a bill, but she still believes that destination resort-style casinos are the best gaming option to optimize revenues and create permanent jobs.
Some legislators agreed with Patrick, saying they don’t like slot machines for the state’s race tracks.
Rep. Todd M. Smola, R-Palmer, said slots for the tracks is “a recipe for disaster” and he would vote against any final bill if it mandates that the tracks receive slot machines.
Smola said he is open to voting for a bill with just casino resorts or in combination with a provision to seek bids for slot parlors. Smola said he does not want to just hand slot machines to the four tracks in a special deal to prop up a dying industry.
Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, said he would support DeLeo’s proposal. Knapik said slots for the tracks should “sweeten the pot” and win the support of legislators with tracks in their districts.
A dog track, Raynham-Taunton Park in Raynham, and a horse track, Plainridge in Plainville, would also receive slots in addition to the tracks in DeLeo’s district.
Knapik said he believes legislators will approve expanded gambling this year because they are left with “very few choices” to create jobs and tax revenues for government.
Knapik said he wants a piece of the $800 million that he said Massachusetts residents spend each year at the two casinos in Connecticut.
Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham, said she opposes slots for the tracks, but she suggested it wouldn’t break any deal for her.
Candaras said she will insist that a casino for Hampden County be written into any legislation.
“My job is to make sure the people of Hampden County get the opportunity,” Candaras said.
One of the Legislature’s leading critics on casinos, Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, said DeLeo’s proposal makes no sense. Bosley said downtown business districts all over the state would be ruined by two casinos and slot machines at four race tracks.
“If we’re going to vote on it, let’s vote on it relatively soon, kill it and get on with business,” Bosley said.
Two years ago, the state House of Representatives voted 108-46 to defeat Patrick’s bill for three casino resorts.
"DeLeo stirs political pot over casinos: Haverhill's Dempsey is in the middle of casino talks"
By Kyle Cheney, Michael Norton and Jim O'Sullivan, State House News Service via eagletribune.com - March 5, 2010
BOSTON — Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill voted in 2008 to reject Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to license three casinos in Massachusetts.
Dempsey joined 107 colleagues to sink the plan, which the governor promised would bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to Massachusetts.
But a lot has changed since then.
With the state announcing yesterday that the unemployment rate climbed to 9.5 percent in January, Dempsey is now helping House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in his post for a year now, advance a proposal to bring two casinos to Massachusetts and install slot machines at the state's four racetracks.
For DeLeo to succeed, he'll need to rely on the conversion of dozens of lawmakers, whose wide-ranging concerns about the last proposal - led by the loudest critic of all, former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi - caused them to deal the governor a defeat that resonates two years later.
Dempsey said the high jobless rate is "causing many members to rethink their position," adding that lawmakers may still need "to be convinced" to change their positions on expanded gambling.
Turning votes isn't the only challenge facing DeLeo.
Hours after DeLeo offered some additional details of the plan he is crafting, the governor told reporters that racetrack slots would be a deal-breaker "as it stands now." He stopped short of issuing a veto threat, but if lawmakers fail to bring together two-thirds of the House and Senate to support slots, Patrick would have the upper hand.
"We don't get the jobs at the same number or at the same wage level with slots at the tracks as we do in the full-blown resort setting," he said. I think we get all the human impact without the economic upswing."
Critics of slot parlors say they prey on gambling addicts and those least able to afford spending their paychecks on slots.
Patrick said he hopes "we update the economic analysis because conditions continue to evolve."
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation earlier this week also questioned the jobs promises historically attached to expanded gambling proposals and indicated it would likely analyze any new claims.
"I'm still opposed and I hope that people really run the numbers on these things," said state Rep. Daniel Bosley, a North Adams Democrat.
Noting slot machines account for the bulk of gambling facility revenues, Bosley said DeLeo's plan allows "at least six casinos really." He predicted investors would also look to launch Indian casinos in Massachusetts, further diluting the potential market and taxpayer benefits if Beacon Hill moves to legalize casinos.
A new poll asked, Do you support or oppose House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s plan to authorize two resort casinos in Massachusetts and to allow a limited number of slot machines at the state’s racetracks?
"58% support Robert DeLeo’s plan for casinos, slots at tracks: Most back expanded gambling"
By Thomas Grillo, Local Politics, www.bostonherald.com - March 18, 2010
House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s proposal to expand gambling has broad support in the Bay State, according to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
The poll out today, conducted by the school’s Center for Policy Analysis, found that 58 percent favor two casinos and slots at racetracks, 25 percent oppose it and 17 percent are undecided.
“Public support for expanded gaming remains strong because most people have concluded that the fiscal and economic benefits of expanded gaming outweigh any potential negative social impacts,” said Clyde Barrow, the study’s author, who has come under fire for consulting work he did last year for a casino project in New Hampshire.
Kathleen Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, dismissed the survey, noting that the sample group was not given information about the costs of expanded gambling.
The survey also found that a majority, 50 percent, believe that resort casinos and a limited number of slots at the racetracks will increase gambling addiction in the state, while 45 percent disagree.
“It’s troubling that the speaker had refused to have an independent cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the costs,” she said. “We need to be looking at questions that ask people if they are aware of the cost to municipalities and entire regions that host slot parlors or casinos.”
Seth Gitell, a DeLeo spokesman, said the goal of the speaker’s expanded gambling legislation, due to be filed soon, is to help bring jobs to the commonwealth.
“The speaker expects that as the public learns not just about the direct benefits of gaming but his proposal to help the manufacturing sector and other areas of our economy, that support will grow,” Gitell said.
Gov. Deval Patrick firmly opposes “racinos” and believes more jobs will be created at so-called destination-resort casinos.
“Nothing that I’ve seen so far has changed my opinion about racinos,” he said during yesterday’s live chat on BostonHerald.com. “I’m just not convinced that they will have enough of a job or economic development impact.”
"Union members rally at State House for casinos"
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, March 31, 2010
Chanting, “We want jobs,” hundreds of members of the building trades and other unions descended on the State House today for a raucous rally and lobbying blitz in support of expanded gambling, one day before House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is to release his much-anticipated bill to legalize two casinos and slot machines at the state’s four racetracks.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Casinos Now! Jobs Now!” the union members tried to put a human face on the divisive issue. At a packed rally, unemployed workers spoke of how much a job building a casino would mean to them and their families in an economic crisis that has slowed, if not stopped, many large construction projects in Massachusetts.
Peter Hunnefeld, a 41-year-old journeyman electrician and married father of four from Hingham, told the rally that he has not been able to find steady work in 2 1/2 years and his home is in foreclosure.
“I’m ready to get back to work,” said Hunnefeld, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 in Dorchester. “I know that a resort-style casino project would offer me a good opportunity to get that work.”
The crowd, filled with workers wearing hard hats emblazoned with union decals, burst into applause when Hunnefeld declared that "creating jobs ought to be the one priority this state should be focusing on.”
Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and union laborer, predicted at the rally that casinos would be approved, three years after the House killed Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to license three casinos. “We will get this done this year!” Walsh declared to applause.
After the rally, the union members flooded the halls of the State House, knocking on doors and urging their state representatives to support the bill.
This afternoon, opponents of expanded gambling plan to hold their own rally at the State House. Their demonstration is being organized by United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts and is expected to feature speakers talking about the negative social and economic costs of casinos.
"Gambling battle lines drawn"
Associated Press, April 1, 2010
BOSTON -- More than a thousand union workers packed the Statehouse on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to legalize casinos, saying they will bring desperately needed jobs to Massachusetts.
Gambling foes held a press conference later in the day warning of the social costs of expanded gambling and to decry what they called the "super secret slots bill."
The flurry of activity comes a day before House Speaker Robert DeLeo unveils a long-awaited casino bill.
DeLeo supports the construction of two casinos in Massachusetts and a limited number of slot machines at the state's four existing race tracks, two of which are in the Winthrop Democrat's district.
Gov. Deval Patrick, also a Democrat, is opposed to racetrack slots. Patrick prefers destination casinos but has stopped short of saying he would veto any bill that includes racetrack slots.
For the union workers, the number one issue is jobs.
Julie van Gestel, a union painter, said too many of her fellow workers are struggling to make ends meet in the worst economy in decades. She said casinos and slot parlors could put hundreds to work almost immediately.
She also said that with so many casinos in neighboring states, Massachusetts is being forced to deal with the downside of casinos with none of the positives, like jobs and extra revenue.
"Nobody's putting a gun to anyone's head to get on a bus and go to Foxwoods" Resort Casino in Connecticut, said van Gestel, 38, of Boston. "If people want to gamble, they're going to gamble."
Critics say expanding gambling will bring more costs like gambling addiction.
They say the state needs to conduct a better economic analysis looking at the pros and cons of casinos. They also say casinos in other states are struggling and gambling may not be the economic magic bullet it appears to be.
"We need to know who wins in this deal, the gambling special interests or Massachusetts taxpayers who have to pay for the increased social and infrastructure costs," said Kathleen Conley Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.
Norbut said her group wasn't consulted by DeLeo's office. She said the bill shouldn't be fast tracked for a quick House vote without a public hearing.
The Rev. Jack Johnson, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said it's cruel for the state to balance its budget on the backs of those addicted to gambling.
"It is cruel and frankly financially irresponsible to say that some people's lives are simply the cost of doing business," he said.
Casino critics also say that allowing casinos could pave the way for additional casinos by Indian tribes. The Mashpee Wampanoags are actively working to bring a casino to Massachusetts.
The lure of casinos has drawn millions in lobbying dollars to the state.
The amount spent by firms, unions and interest groups hoping to influence the debate has grown from just more than $800,000 in 2006 to more than $2 million in 2009, according to an Associated Press review of records filed with the secretary of state's office.
The vast majority of the lobbying dollars are being spent by groups hoping to get a piece of the gambling pie if lawmakers ultimately vote to expand gaming.
The union workers supporting casinos have already won over some lawmakers. Rep. Martin Walsh said the state needs the immediate jobs that the slot parlors would bring and the longer term jobs of destination casinos.
"We need to see cranes and we're not seeing cranes," said Walsh, D-Boston, noting the dearth of construction in the state. "Our jobs are winding down. We need more jobs."
Supporters say that with the state's top three political leaders -- Patrick, DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray -- all supporting expanding gambling, the chances are good a bill will pass this year.
But labor organizers say they're taking nothing for granted.
"That's a good thing, but people get to vote and there are still people who are opposed," said Mass. AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes.
"The fix is in"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 5, 2010
House Speaker Robert DeLeo's decision not to hold public hearings on his bill licensing two casinos and instituting slot machines at the state's four racetracks is typical of the lordly arrogance that has afflicted a long line of Speakers. One after another they trip over their imperial robes, but none ever learns. "Everything has been studied thoroughly, and we're ready to go," said Mr. DeLeo on Thursday. Translation - the speaker has made up his mind and doesn't want to be burdened with contrary opinions. Besides, Mr. DeLeo has a couple of floundering racetracks, Revere and Suffolk Downs, in his eastern Massachusetts district that need to be artificially resuscitated with slots. Governor Patrick is a casino supporter but he knows everyone's voice should be heard at public hearings and has urged that they be held.
Here's some of what Mr. DeLeo won't have to hear. Casinos breed crime and gambling addiction and prey on the poorest of residents. They provide service jobs and are of little help to local economies. The two Connecticut mega-casinos are struggling financially and laying off workers. The presence of four casinos in close proximity will cannibalize local dollars, not draw tourist dollars.
According to anonymous legislators speaking to The Boston Globe, Mr. DeLeo has told his leadership team to not only poll House members but push them to support his bill. Sounds as if this game is rigged.
"House, in lopsided vote, OKs casinos"
New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, 4/15/2010
BOSTON -- The House of Representatives voted overwhelming Wednesday night to legalize resort casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts, a seismic shift from just two years ago when the proposal went down in defeat.
The vote, 120-37, marks the first step toward the largest expansion of gambling in the state since 1971, when the Legislature approved what has become one of the most successful lotteries in the country.
Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, was the only Berkshire lawmaker to vote in favor of the plan. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton, and William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, voted against.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo's plan would allow for two resort-style casinos, as well as 750 slot machines at each of the state's four racetracks, two of which are located in DeLeo's district. The margin gives the speaker a veto-proof majority as the bill heads to the Senate, where President Therese Murray appears to be cooler to the idea of slots.
Gov. Deval Patrick opposes slots of the racetracks but has stopped short of threatening a veto.
The bill requires a $500 million private investment from each of the resort casinos and $75 million from each of the racetracks. The state would receive $260 million in upfront licensing fees, and House leaders estimate the gambling venues will generate $300 million to $500 million in annual tax revenue.
After a similarly lopsided vote in 2008 to kill Patrick's plan for three-casino plan under then-Speaker Sal DiMasi, lawmakers have justified a switch in their position by pointing to the down economy and the need to create jobs.
The bill is projected to generate 15,000 to 19,000 construction and full-time casino jobs.
"A crapshoot for Massachusetts: Congress’s uncertain direction clouds efforts to control number of Indian casinos, cost of licenses"
By Casey Ross, Boston Globe Staff, May 26, 2010
A fight over Indian rights is reemerging as a central issue in the Massachusetts gambling debate, as the uncertain legal status of the Wampanoags is thwarting efforts to control how many casinos get built and how much to charge for the coveted licenses.
The major stumbling block concerns a measure in Congress that would allow tribes to build casinos on so-called sovereign land that would be outside the control of state regulators. The bill is intended to reverse a US Supreme Court ruling last year that blocked some tribes, including those in Massachusetts, from putting land outside their reservations into trust in order to run a casino.
So, for example, if Massachusetts legalizes casino gambling and creates licenses for just two facilities, under the congressional plan an Indian tribe would be able to bypass the state process and open a third casino, as long as it was built on land put into trust and made part of the tribe’s sovereign nation.
That third tribe-run casino, however, would further split the gambling market, making the state licenses less valuable.
But so far Congress remains deadlocked on the issue. That is preventing Massachusetts officials from clearly assessing the tribe’s prospects and deciding how to price the casino licenses being sought by non-Indian gaming concerns.
Gambling opponents warn it would be foolish for Massachusetts to legalize casinos before the matter is resolved.
“There is a lack of full disclosure and understanding by legislators of the impact of Native American gambling,’’ said Kathleen Conley Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots, a coalition of groups opposed to expanding gambling.
“Without performing an economic analysis, they are shirking their basic fiduciary duties as elected officials. Our Legislature needs take a step back and reevaluate the market, the costs, and the impacts.’’
State lawmakers said they are acutely aware of the complexities of Indian gaming and are preparing proposed legislation that assumes the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will eventually gain the right to operate a casino outside of the state’s control.
“We’re vetting a range of options to deal with this,’’ said state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat in charge of writing his chamber’s version of a gaming bill. “We understand that to ignore this question is to compromise the success of our efforts if we choose to do this.’’
Without being specific, Rosenberg intimated the proposed legislation would allow for the construction of tribal casinos. The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoags on Martha’s Vineyard are the two Massachusetts Indian tribes in a position to build a casino on tribal land, but the Aquinnah tribe previously agreed not to open a casino without state approval.
The Mashpee tribe has lined up a 300-acre site in Fall River and investors to finance a casino. Tribal leaders said they expect Congress will eventually allow them to build a casino on sovereign land in Fall River. Meanwhile, the property has another complication — a state restriction against using it for a casino, which the Wampanoags would need lawmakers to repeal.
For Massachusetts, the tribe’s proposal poses a basic economic problem: The value of casino licenses drop as more casinos enter the mix. If, for example, the Massachusetts gaming market is theoretically worth a $1 billion, then another casino from the tribe would reduce the value of two state-authorized licenses from $500 million apiece to $333 million.
The tribe has said it will apply for a state license. But if it does not get one, it will pursue a casino on sovereign land that would not be subject to state and local laws, if allowed by Congress.
Legislation passed by the Massachusetts House this year would allow slots at the four racetracks and the licensing of two casinos. The House legislation would authorize state officials to negotiate with a tribe about opening a casino.
The confusion over the Wampanoags’ rights stems from a Supreme Court ruling that allowed Indian tribes to put land into trust for economic development. The court held that since the land-in-trust law was adopted in 1934, it applies only to tribes that received US government recognition before its passage.
The ruling blocked any tribe that received its federal designation after 1934 from putting land into trust. The Mashpee Wampanoags received recognition in 2007.
Some powerful opponents have lined up against proposals to reverse the ruling in Congress. Among them is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose home state of Nevada includes casinos averse to competition from Indian-run facilities. US Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat whose district includes the site of the proposed Fall River casino, flatly said the measure will not pass anytime soon.
“There is a lot of resistance to allowing the tribes to override local laws,’’ he said. “I’ve supported the Indians before, but I don’t think there’s any chance for this.’’
Supporters of Indian gaming concede that legislation is unlikely before this year’s midterm elections. But they argue Congress can’ stay silent on a court ruling that has created confusion over the legal status of scores of projects already built by tribes with post-1934 federal status.
“Billions of dollars of projects have been built on lands in trust, and those investments are now in jeopardy,’’ said US Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Chickasaw Nation who is sponsoring the measure.
“It’s incredibly unfair to the tribes,’’ he said.
Casey Ross can be reached at email@example.com.
"State Senate bill proposes 3 casinos, excludes slots at racetracks"
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, June 2, 2010
State Senate leaders, setting up a clash with their House counterparts, said today that they will propose that Massachusetts license three casinos in three regions of the state but no slot machines at the state’s four ailing racetracks.
The Senate legislation, which senators will discusss at a closed-door caucus Thursday, closely resembles the casino bill proposed by Governor Deval Patrick three years ago. But it differs from the plan passed by the House earlier this year, which called for two casinos and 750 slot machines at each of the state’s four racetracks.
Under the Senate plan, one of the casinos would be designated for an Indian tribe, said Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat. Senators decided to exclude slots at the tracks from their plan because they believe those slot parlors will sap the market for the casinos, which can generate more revenue and jobs. That will inevitably set up a fight with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who strongly backs slots at the tracks.
“You can glut the market if you go too far and compromise the viability of the industry you’re trying to build, and all the data shows very clearly that, if you want to maximize jobs, you need resort-style casinos,” Rosenberg said. “You add very few jobs if you put slots at tracks.”
The bill is set for a public hearing Tuesday. Some details of the legislation – such as the rate at which the casinos would be taxed and the programs that would be paid for with casino revenue – have yet to be worked out, Rosenberg said.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"In battle over gambling, Senate offers better course than House"
June 21, 2010
WHETHER CASINO gambling will become a force for economic development in Massachusetts depends entirely on the form it takes. A bill passed by the House authorizes two destination casinos, complete with hotels, retail, and entertainment — but also slot machine parlors at the state’s two horse tracks and two former dog tracks. On Friday, Senate leaders offered their own bill, which is slated for debate this week. Similar to an earlier proposal by Governor Patrick, it proposes three casinos and no special favors for racetracks. Many more details need to be worked out, but the Senate bill is clearly superior.
Despite legitimate fears about addiction and other social ills, lawmakers are sensibly concluding that they can’t sit idly by while many Massachusetts residents who aren’t problem gamblers spend hundreds of millions of dollars at Connecticut casinos. Sticky issues remain, however. For one, where should the casinos be located?
Under the House bill, bidders for two resort casino licenses would be free to propose locations anywhere in the state, subject to the approval of a five-member gaming commission. The Senate would place one casino in each of three different regions, which roughly correspond to eastern, southeastern, and western Massachusetts.
If the primary goal of allowing casinos is to promote decent jobs with good benefits, then the Senate bill better protects the entire state by ensuring that the jobs are spread around. Casino operators would gladly cluster their facilities around densely settled Greater Boston. But the need for job growth is greater in other areas of the state.
Both bills leave open some possibility of a showdown with the state’s federally designated Indian tribes. Under US law, the tribes have a separate path to getting casinos authorized, but it could be a long and difficult process. The Mashpee Wampanoag already have taken steps to establish a casino in Fall River. And they can move faster if they get a license from the state. But they argue that, as a sovereign tribe with rights under federal law, they shouldn’t have to pay the same taxes to the state as other commercial operators. The Senate bill would require them to do so as a condition of a state license, while the House bill is more open to negotiation.
Senate leaders are right to take a tougher stance. A state license would be valuable for a tribe, because it represents a much quicker way to open a casino, and would limit potential competition. The state should seek a healthy return from all casinos, whether owned by investors or tribes. And while it’s beneficial to Massachusetts for tribes to take part in the state licensing competition rather than taking the federal route, any specific proposal for Fall River must be carefully vetted on its own merits.
Lawmakers must still debate a host of other details, from capital investment requirements to regulatory structures. The Senate measure gets at least the basic shape right. But lawmakers must work carefully to reconcile the two bills while Massachusetts makes peace with legalized gambling.
"Ugly smell that rises from casinos"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, July 6, 2010
The one observation in Clarence Fanto's column (Eagle, June 22) about the Mohegan Sun resort casino that stands out is his description of the "near catatonic visages of desperate gamblers" dominating the scene amidst all the glitz.
My one visit to this casino (or maybe it was Foxwoods) several years ago convinced me that the character of such institutions is so tainted with the ugly smell of ravenous greed and pecuniary lust that I decided then and there it would be my last visit to any casino. I remember sitting down to a form of poker in which you played against the dealer. I dropped about $60 in less than a half hour. Neophyte that I was, I had twice during that time nonchalantly and innocently dropped my hands to my lap -- a gesture that incited a rather malicious admonishment from the dealer. At first, I didn't know what he was referring to until I realized that apparently I had become an instant cheating suspect, as if I knew how one goes about doing that.
I remember thinking that here I was putting on perhaps $5 a bet and being treated like a possible criminal because I might be thinking about cheating the house out of $20 or so of the multi-millions in profits it was making off the backs of bettors. The immensity of that covetousness unnerved me. The house is set up to beat you, the games are set up to beat you, the odds are set up to beat you, and the modus operandi is separating you from your money. Why would I engage in such a senseless ordeal? I folded my cards and left, never to return. I ain't no fool.
It's this aspect of gambling ventures that politicians ignore in their pursuit of alternatives to taxation: the exploitation, the manipulation and the ruination of thousands of lives that are at the core of such schemes. Like the casinos themselves, they apparently prefer to plug the state's coffers with easy money.
RICHARD T. DELMASTO
"Air has gone out of casinos"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, November 15, 2010
The arrival of January will trigger a legislative session to be dominated by difficult economic issues, and time should not be wasted again on a pie-in-the-sky casino debate. Happily, two of the state's leaders indicate it will not be, and we hope nothing changes in the months ahead.
Governor Patrick, who has advocated casinos, says he will not bring up the issue again because "all the air goes out" of Beacon Hill when the discussion turns to gambling. That was certainly the case earlier this year when all manner of important legislation ground to a halt while the House and Senate struggled and failed to reach a compromise on casinos and slot machines following an acrimonious, all-consuming debate. Late last week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, an advocate of slots for his district, told The Boston Globe that the budget shortfall and the health care debate were more important than gambling, which has dropped back on his agenda. Better it falls off the agenda.
Gambling is not an economic panacea, it's a social problem with severe economic costs. With the air going out of the two struggling southeastern Connecticut casinos that are supposed to serve as models for Massachusetts, the push for gambling in the state should not only be shelved this year but permanently.
"Gambling debated behind closed doors: Critics say public left without a role"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, June 20, 2011
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo stood in front of his office last week and declared that state government has become “a whole lot more transparent than it’s ever been,’’ as a result of the corruption case in which his predecessor, Salvatore F. DiMasi, had just been convicted.
But only two days earlier, DeLeo met behind closed doors with Governor Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray to hash out what could prove to be one of the most controversial bills of the year— a deal to legalize gambling.
The negotiations have been intermittently acknowledged on Beacon Hill, but never detailed publicly. Yet whatever emerges from those talks will probably dictate what the final bill could look like.
“We’re making progress,’’ Patrick said last Monday after his weekly meeting with Murray and DeLeo, adding that the discussion focused on how many slot parlors to allow in the state. “We’re not quite there, but that’s the kind of conversation we’re having.’’
Despite promises about transparency, often the most critical decisions on Beacon Hill happen this way, with little meaningful input from anyone outside the small circle of the State House’s top three leaders.
“The public’s entitled to more, particularly now,’’ said Scott Harshbarger, a Democrat, referring to the embarrassment caused by DiMasi’s conviction.
“If the only way you can do this is getting a deal behind closed doors, it strikes me as tone deaf.’’
While there have been no allegations of corruption related to the casino debate, Harshbarger echoed a critique made by others — that the DiMasi trial cast a spotlight on the pitfalls of concentrating excessive power in only a few hands.
Centralized authority provides special interests an opportunity for outsize influence, Harshbarger said.
But members of the general public, lacking knowledge of what is being discussed, have no way to tell their representatives their opinions. And even those representatives may be shut out of the process.
“It’s an outrage,’’ said Kathleen Conley Norbut, senior adviser for the interest group United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts. “If the decisions are only made by two people or three people, what’s the sense of having a Legislature?’’
Patrick, DeLeo, and Murray have said they support casinos but have been unable to agree on the details. They argue that the casino debate has been aired fully in public over the last four years, since Patrick first proposed authorizing resort-style casinos in the state. Last year’s floor debate in the Senate took eight days.
And the current Legislature held a daylong hearing on the issue in May.
But none of the three leaders would comment directly for this story, instead issuing statements or referring comment to their representatives.
DeLeo said in a statement that the urgency for state revenue and jobs demands that he work to find a consensus with Patrick and Murray.
“This issue has been the subject of thorough public discussion — having been heard three times in consecutive sessions, debated in the Legislature twice, and intensely scrutinized by the public last year,’’ he said. “Any proposed bill will again be debated and voted on in the respective branches.’’
Murray’s spokesman, David Falcone, said in a statement, “We expect the same level of scrutiny and transparency this year.’’
Patrick’s spokesman, Brendan Ryan, said in an interview that any agreement among the top three would be subject to further scrutiny on its way through the full legislative process.
“The meetings in leadership are characterized as high level, and I don’t think that they’re getting into any detail,’’ Ryan said.
At least one gambling opponent agrees.
Representative William N. Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, said there are too many conversations in the legislative process to hold all of them on the floor of the House or Senate.
“Ultimately, there has to be a debate when there’s something that they want to put forward,’’ said Brownsberger.
Patrick has said repeatedly in recent months that last year’s prolonged public debate on gambling sucked “too much oxygen’’ from the political atmosphere, crowding out other priorities. Private negotiations may be a reaction to that.
“The goal is to make sure there are no nonstarters’’ among Patrick, DeLeo, and Murray before initiating a broader legislative debate, Ryan said.
Some lobbyists say that the three top players are working out most of the deal in private so that whoever gives ground in a compromise can save face.
Last year’s negotiations ended in public finger-pointing after the sides failed to reach a deal, despite a general agreement among Patrick, Murray, and DeLeo that the state should legalize casinos.
They ultimately disagreed over whether to allow race tracks to set up slot machine parlors that would compete alongside more traditional full-scale casinos.
Patrick has indicated at times that he is willing to allow one slot parlor in addition to three full-scale casinos. DeLeo has gone as low as two slot parlors, but said in a WCVB interview scheduled to run yesterday morning that he was “willing to compromise even more than I did before to get it done.’’
“There’s an evolving consensus that they’re very close and that this will happen in July,’’ said one lobbyist, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “Everybody’s giving a little bit. When you’re in an environment like that, it’s really, really, really sensitive and there needs to be a lot of trust, and that’s why you’re not seeing a lot of it in public.’’
Senator James Eldridge, an Acton Democrat who opposes gambling, said the Legislature has become more transparent in recent years, but that the DiMasi trial highlighted that there was still work to be done.
Illustrating the point, he said his only confirmation about the current gambling negotiations came from news accounts.
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
"Mass. casino vote possible without deal"
Boston.com - AP - July 18, 2011
BOSTON — Legislative leaders are suggesting that Massachusetts lawmakers could move forward with a casino gambling bill even if negotiations with Gov. Deval Patrick fail to reach a consensus on the issue.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray indicated on Monday that the ongoing private discussions with the governor had not yet produced agreement on the parameters of a casino bill. Patrick declined to sign a bill last year because it included slot machines at race tracks.
Murray and DeLeo said they expected a legislative committee to draft a new bill that lawmakers would take up sometime after Labor Day.
DeLeo answered `yes' when asked if a bill could be debated absent a deal with Patrick, pointing out that a similar scenario unfolded last year.
The leaders spoke after their regularly-scheduled Monday meeting with the governor.
"New York ups ante on Massachusetts casino bid - Experts: Pressure on Bay State to get in first"
By Brendan Lynch, Hillary Chabot and John Zaremba - bostonherald.com - Local Politics - August 13, 2011
Massachusetts could get muscled out of a much-needed revenue jackpot if New York makes good on its bid to build big-time betting palaces to become a gambling Empire State, according to commercial-casino advocates and industry analysts.
“The trick is to get there first and get in while the getting is good,” said New York Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Yonkers), chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering. “Otherwise, the money is gone.”
“We have a saying at the New York lotto: ‘You gotta be in it to win it,’ ” Pretlow told the Herald. “And neither of us are in it. If you open first, we’ll lose money to you, and if we open first, you’ll lose money to us.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that his state’s lawmakers are “actively” considering the legalization of commercial, non-Indian casinos to add to the $600 million in state and local revenue that the Empire State’s racetrack slot machines and Indian-operated casinos generated last year.
It is the latest stride in what one industry consultant called a nationwide “arms race” for states to ante up and get locals gambling within the borders.
“There’s a simple fact that there’s an arms race going on with legalized gambling in the U.S.,” said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president at Spectrum Gaming Group and formerly a consultant for House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “The whole idea is to keep gambling money in-state so you can keep tax money in-state.”
Massachusetts’ most recent failed gambling bid was beaten in 2010 when it passed through the Legislature but died on Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk when the governor refused to sign it on the grounds that it included what he called “no-bid” slot parlors at race tracks.
Some Massachusetts lawmakers are pinning their hopes on a new gaming bill that the Legislature is set to take up after its unofficial August furlough.
“Since we’re very close to getting this done, I’m not losing any sleep over what they’re doing in New York, but it ups the ante a little bit,” said state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst), who is leading the legislation in the Senate. “We’ve known for a long time this is a competitive industry. We already have competition from Connecticut and Rhode Island.”
He also said that the Bay State’s main aim is to reclaim the $1.2 billion lost when Massachusetts residents gamble in Rhode Island or Connecticut.
“Our first job is to bring back the Massachusetts players. The people who want to go to New York are probably going to go to New York anyway,” Rosenberg said. “We’re going to get our share in the state.”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 14, 2011
The issue of slot and casino gambling (or "gaming" as preferred by proponents) to Massachusetts is expected to return to Beacon Hill for debate after Labor Day, and advocates are once again confident of passage. The arguments in opposition remain -- the shaky job creation statistics, the introduction of crime, the high social cost of gambling addiction, the casino glut that threatens anticipated revenues. Add to them the evidence provided by the State Lottery that gambling invites greed and corruption that cannot be legislated away.
All of the key players backed gambling a year ago, but because they couldn’t agree on the kind of gambling the session came and went without any action. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose insistence on slot machines for the dying racetracks in his backyard of Winthrop and Revere left him at odds with Governor Patrick, a casino advocate, indicated at an Eagle editorial board meeting earlier this month that a compromise would be reached. The governor, who accurately said that casino debate takes the air out of any other issue in Boston, may be ready to back slots as the terrible economy will increase demands for an easy revenue source.
The state already allows gambling in the form of the lottery, of course. Recent events involving the lottery invite the question -- if the state can’t keep the lottery under control how can it open to regulate slot and casino gambling?
Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating whether former state treasurer and lottery head Timothy Cahill used a lottery ad campaign last year to boost his independent candidacy for governor. State law prohibits public officials from using their position or government resources to promote their careers. Mr. Cahill may not have committed a crime, but coming when they did, the ads touting the management of the lottery raised questions about conflict of interest. Lottery money is tempting, and casino money will be also.
The Cash WinFall scam exposed this month by The Boston Globe is a thorough embarrassment. Math whizzes, including computer scientists from MIT and Northeastern University, found that on weeks in which there was no winner, the high runner-up prizes made it easy for those who bought huge blocks of tickets to make a profit. Gambling companies established for this purpose could win back the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in tickets and make from $1 million to $6 million in yearly profits without ever winning the jackpot. Several stores that catered to Cash WinFall investors have since had their lottery privileges suspended, limits have been placed on the amount of tickets purchased in each store, and Treasurer Steve Grossman says Cash WinFall will be phased out, although the game should have been shut down immediately.
Lottery proceeds go to fund worthy state programs, but they are in essence a tax on the poor, who buy a disproportionate amount of lottery tickets. In the case of Cash WinFall, the poor got no richer, the rich found a loophole in the game to get richer, and with big money at stake, store owners were tempted to bend the rules.
Gaming implies something played with Monopoly money. Gambling is all that the word implies, and the state is gambling with its integrity if it continues to follow that siren song this fall.
"Specter of casinos looms over creative community"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 22, 2011
A casino may never be built in Berkshire County, but according to state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, that's no reason area arts groups shouldn't be worried about their impact on the region's creative economy.
With what's considered the likely legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts on the horizon, and the high probability of at least one being built in the Pioneer Valley, Pignatelli said it's time to think about how to protect the region's nonprofit performing arts venues from competition from casino-run theaters.
To that end, Pignatelli is hosting a private, round-table discussion today with the region's major arts venues and the Massachusetts Cultural Council's executive director, Anita Walker.
Pignatelli said his primary concern is that gaming and performing arts centers compete for the same discretionary spending of consumers, but operate under vastly different business models.
Kate McGuire, the director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group, which runs the 700-seat Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, said the specter of casino gambling here presents an obvious threat to her business.
"I'm definitely going to be at the meeting," she said.
A 2010 task force studying the issue found that casinos and similarly sized theaters vie for the same acts, but casinos can charge less for tickets and pay performers more because their main source of revenue from the event is from gambling, not ticket sales.
The task force also found that casinos can exert what is called "unfair control" over the supply of performing artists. It's already impossible for nonprofit theaters in Western Massachusetts to book certain major acts because casinos in Connecticut and Rhode Island have secured them, according to the task force's report.
Pignatelli said he hopes to address the concerns of local arts groups by developing amendments that can be included in the casino-gambling legislation currently being debated on Beacon Hill.
"I don't like casino gambling. I never have," he said. "But I think it's going to pass this time and these are the things we need to be aware of and get some amendments to protect these theaters."
(related) - www.iberkshires.com/story/39243/Pignatelli-Casinos-Threaten-Smaller-Arts-Venues.html?source=top_stories
"Casinos a threat to arts"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 23, 2011
While a gambling casino may never be built farther west than Palmer in Massachusetts, that doesn't mean that casinos are not a Berkshire County issue. If approved, casinos would be a threat to the arts organizations that are so critical to the Berkshire economy, and that threat is yet another example of how the perceived benefits of gambling to the state are far outweighed by the detriments.
State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli hosted a discussion Monday with Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker and representatives of the region's major arts and cultural venues in anticipation of casino legislation re-emerging next month on Beacon Hill. Casinos, like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in southeastern Connecticut, have theaters and concert halls on site, the main purpose of which is to draw in people who will stick around and play the slots or the gambling tables. As "loss leaders," the casinos can charge less for ticket prices -- or give them away free to high-rollers -- than the artistic venues that depend solely on ticket sales. The casinos also have the financial pull to ask performers to sign exclusivity deals that prevent them from playing local venues.
This double-whammy is already affecting CityStage and Symphony Hall in Springfield, which are losing big name performers as well as touring musicals to the Connecticut casinos. A Palmer casino could drive them out of business, and severely affect the ability of the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington to sign the comedians, singers and acts that pack houses. If people aren't going to those theaters they are also not frequenting the taverns and restaurants that are dependent upon the success of those theaters. The trickle-down effect could be devastating to rebuilding downtowns like Pittsfield's. As Edward Madaus and Troy Siebels, the founder and executive director of Worcester's Hanover Theatre, pointed out last year in an article in the Telegram and Gazette, more than 30 restaurants closed in New London, Connecticut after the opening nearby of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun as gamblers and concert-goers stayed and dined in the casino restaurants.
The consensus is that casino legislation will pass in Boston this year, but that was the consensus last year as well. The impact on arts venues and the businesses that depend on those venues is one of many arguments presented on this page and elsewhere for the rejection of gambling in Massachusetts. Failing that, Representative Pignatelli is correct that amendments should be included that protect or assist these venues. Among the proposals are a ban on exclusivity agreements, limits on the size of casino theaters, and the setting aside of 10 percent of gaming revenues and licensing fees to the Cultural Council for grants to arts organizations.
A casino, wrote the Hanover Theatre leaders, is "an 800-pound gorilla. And this gorilla doesn't play by the same rules." A gorilla that size in Palmer could raise havoc in the Berkshires.
"Lawmakers propose three casinos, one slot parlor as gambling plan emerges"
By Michael Levenson and Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, 8/23/2011
House and Senate leaders today proposed building three sprawling casinos in three regions of the state as well as a fourth gambling hall with up to 1,250 slot machines, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by the Globe.
The 133-page bill would require developers to invest a minimum of $500 million per casino and specifies that each casino must also include a hotel. Licenses for the casinos would be auctioned off at a starting price of $85 million.
The slot-parlor license would be sold for a minimum bid of $25 million and the state would require $125 million in investments for that facility.
Anyone applying for a gambling license would have to pay the state a $350,000 non-refundable application fee.
The casinos would pay the state 25 percent of their revenues; the slot parlor would pay the state 40 percent of its revenue and another 9 percent to a special fund for the horse-racing industry.
A quarter of the state’s casino revenue would be sent to cities and towns, to help them preserve jobs and municipal services. The state would send another 5 percent to a special fund to help compulsive gamblers.
The casinos and slot parlor would be smoke-free. In the past, gambling supporters have chafed at that rule, arguing that casinos need to attract smokers to keep gamblers from traveling to out-of-state casinos that allow smoking.
The bill attempts to combat the corruption that has historically cropped up around casinos. It would establish a new “gaming enforcement” unit of the State Police and a five-member commission to oversee the casinos.
The governor would appoint the chairman of the commission; the state treasurer and attorney general would each appoint one member; the remaining two members would be selected by the commission itself. The panel would, among other duties, investigate prospective casino developers to ensure they have “integrity, honesty, [and] good character.”
The panel would also be allowed to ban gamblers with “notorious or unsavory reputations” to ensure casinos are “free from criminal or corruptive elements.”
The bill was developed behind closed doors by House and Senate leaders in consultation with Governor Deval Patrick’s staff. Few other lawmakers, even those who serve on the committee that drafted the legislation, have been included in the talks. Many said they had not seen the bill yet and were not even aware it was being released today.
But House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray today released a joint statement defending the process.
“Through public analysis and deliberation, it is our goal to pass a bill that is responsible to the public and does what is best for our economic interests,” DeLeo and Murray said. “We support this bill and believe that it provides a strongly regulated and commercially desirable framework for establishing a gaming industry in Massachusetts.”
In his own statement this afternoon, Patrick, whose staff worked with legislators to craft the bill, praised it. “If done right, expanded gaming in Massachusetts can create jobs, generate new revenue, and spur other economic growth in the state,” the governor said. “The bill being considered by the Joint Legislative Committee on Economic Development places appropriate limits on the expansion of gaming, requires open and transparent bidding, maintains a voice for local communities, and provides resources to address public health and safety – all principles I have insisted be a part of any gaming bill I support.”
Gambling opponents blasted the secrecy surrounding the process, and urged lawmakers to conduct an independent cost-benefit analysis before they vote on the legislation after Labor Day.
“Today’s release of all new casino legislation signals yet another milestone in Beacon Hill’s concerning slide deeper into a closed-door culture marked by little debate, less dissent and an even greater likelihood of improper influence,” former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, a leading gambling opponent, said in a statement today. “We had hoped that public outrage over a string of public corruption cases would have convinced the governor and legislative leaders to include public review, oversight and comment on this bill before it came out with their stamp of approval.”
For more background on the bill read the story from today’s Globe.
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson
"State leaders agree on casino bill: Proposal would allow 4 gambling facilities; private talks criticized"
By Michael Levenson and Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, August 24, 2011
Governor Deval Patrick and the leaders of the House and Senate yesterday embraced a proposal that would license three casinos and one slot parlor in Massachusetts, uniting the key political players a year after their attempts to expand gambling collapsed in acrimony.
The bill would authorize three Las Vegas-style casinos in three regions, and a fourth gambling hall with up to 1,250 slot machines that could be located anywhere in Massachusetts - all of which backers say would generate much-needed jobs and income for the state.
It represents the state’s third attempt in as many years to legalize casinos, but the first time that Patrick and legislative leaders have worked together to hammer out a proposal before bringing it to the full House and Senate. That collaboration could increase the bill’s chances of passage by avoiding the kind of showdown that killed the legislation last year.
The casinos would operate 24 hours a day and be smoke-free. They could serve free alcohol, but could not serve any drinks between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Developers would be required to invest at least $500 million per casino and each casino would have to include a hotel. Casino licenses would be auctioned for at least $85 million.
The slot-parlor license would be sold for at least $25 million, and the state would require a $125 million investment for that facility.
The casinos would pay the state 25 percent of their revenues; the slot parlor would pay the state 40 percent of its take, and another 9 percent to a special fund to boost purses for the struggling horse-racing industry.
Casino opponents, outnumbered in the Legislature, criticized lawmakers for writing the bill behind closed doors and for not conducting a fresh cost-benefit analysis.
“Fundamentally, I believe this represents a tax on the poor,’’ said Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat. “I don’t deny at all that there are some benefits that would come to the state. The question is, do those benefits outweigh the costs? And I don’t believe they will.’’
Patrick administration officials and legislative leaders defended their decision not to conduct a new analysis, with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo dismissing the request as a delay tactic.
DeLeo argued that the state could take in “hundreds of millions’’ of dollars and that casinos could create 7,000 jobs and another 3,000 positions from businesses that support the facilities. He acknowledged, however, that those figures are estimates based on a year-old study of a different gambling proposal.
Gregory Bialecki, Patrick’s economic development secretary, said that despite gloomy global and national indicators, the state economy is strong enough to attract major developers who can finance large, profitable casinos.
“The big question was, did the great recession change the economics of expanded gambling in Massachusetts,’’ he said. “The evidence we have is that this is not the case.’’
Beyond the economics of the proposal, this year’s plan is the product of a new political dynamic on Beacon Hill, one that favors gambling proponents who contend the state is losing money and jobs to casinos in Connecticut and other states.
Patrick is now a year removed from a tough reelection fight that prompted him to temper his support for gambling to appeal to liberals who oppose casinos. For months, he and his aides have worked closely and behind closed doors with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to draft the latest proposal.
The private talks effectively sidelined critics, who accused the governor and lawmakers of wiring the bill for passage before it even hits the floor of the House and Senate for debate next month.
“Just the brazen, almost arrogance to the taxpayers that this is how Beacon Hill conducts business,’’ said Kathleen Conley Norbut, an antigambling activist from Monson. “It’s a special-interest-driven political proposal that leadership has crafted, yet the impacts to the people who live in the region and who pay taxes are still not clearly vetted.’’
But legislative leaders defended their approach, saying they want to prevent another bitter public battle.
“We all want to see this done,’’ DeLeo said in an interview in his office yesterday.
He said he, Murray, and Patrick went over the bill one final time on a conference call Thursday, and everyone signed off. “The conversation was that we were all OK to move forward,’’ he said. “It was a real collaborative effort.’’
Each player agreed to concessions, he said.
DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said he dropped his demand that slot licenses be automatically given to the state’s racetracks, two of which are in his district. In exchange, Patrick, who has been cool to slot parlors, agreed to license one, as long as that license was competitively bid.
Hours after Murray and DeLeo unveiled the 155-page bill yesterday, the governor released a statement praising the legislation. “If done right,’’ casinos can “create jobs, generate new revenue, and spur other economic growth in the state,’’ he said.
The bill requires communities to hold a ballot referendum before a casino could locate in a community, and sets aside money to combat compulsive gambling and crime - “all principles I have insisted be a part of any gaming bill I support,’’ Patrick said.
The bill sets up three regions, each with one casino: the Northeast, stretching from Boston to Worcester to the New Hampshire border; the area west of Worcester; and the Southeast part of the state, including New Bedford, Fall River, and Cape Cod.
In the Southeast, where the Mashpee Wampanoag have sought to build a casino, the bill gives preference to an Indian tribe, but forces it to act quickly. The tribe would have one year to secure land, get community approval, and negotiate a compact with the governor. If the tribe cannot strike a deal within that time, the license would be auctioned competitively.
The bill attempts to combat the corruption that has historically cropped up around casinos by setting up a five-member commission to monitor the industry and a new State Police unit to enforce the law. The commission would ensure casino developers have “integrity, honesty, [and] good character’’ and could also ban gamblers with “notorious or unsavory reputations.’’
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
Potential uses for casino revenue
The state would collect 25 percent of casino revenues. Here’s how the state would spend that money:
■ 2 percent to promote arts shows and art centers that may lose customers to casinos.
■ 0.5 percent to promote tourism.
■ 6.5 percent to help communities defray the cost of traffic, police, and other services for casinos.
■ 2 percent to finance local constructions projects.
■ 25 percent to cities and towns to help preserve jobs and services.
■ 10 percent to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
■ 14 percent for schools.
■ 10 percent for job training classes and other workforce programs.
■ 10 percent to reduce state debt.
■ 15 percent to expand and maintain transportation projects.
■ 5 percent to combat compulsive gambling.
"County reps divided on casino issue"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 28, 2011
Berkshire County’s elected officials, who were united in their opposition to expanding gambling in previous years, are divided over the latest proposal to build three Las Vegas-style casinos in Massachusetts.
Both freshman representatives from the county -- Paul W. Mark, D-Hancock, and Gailanne M. Cariddi, D-North Adams -- said they’re in favor of the proposal because it would bring new jobs to the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile, veteran representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, remains steadfast in his resistance.
"I’d like to think that there are more creative and innovative ways to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in Massachusetts," he said. "At the end of the day, I can’t really imagine a scenario where I could support casino gambling, and if I stand alone on that, I stand alone."
The latest proposal is the state’s third attempt in as many years to legalize casinos, but it’s the first time that Governor Deval L. Patrick and legislative leaders have worked together to craft a proposal before bringing it to the full House and Senate.
Observers say that collaboration could increase the bill’s chances of passage by avoiding the kind of showdown that killed the legislation last year. Currently, it has more supporter than detractors in the State House.
The bill would authorize three casino resorts in three regions, including one encompassing Western Massachusetts, and a fourth gambling hall with up to 1,250 slot machines that could be located anywhere in the state.
No one is proposing building a casino in the Berkshires, although likely near-by sites include Palmer and Holyoke.
While the bill’s local supporters acknowledged that the measure wouldn’t bring jobs directly to Berkshire County, they said any proposal that could reduce unemployment in Massachusetts needs to be considered.
"This is a group that wants to bring jobs into the state," said Mark. "I don’t see how we can turn up our noses at that."
Cariddi, who replaced Daniel E. Bosley as the 1st Berkshire District Representative last year, said it is hard to turn down an opportunity to increase state revenues.
Bosley, meanwhile, was a strong opponent of the previous casino proposals, and became known as the preeminent local authority on gambling measures.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, whose staff said he is on vacation, didn’t return several requests for comments left via phone, email and twitter messages since the bill was unveiled on Tuesday.
In year’s past, Downing has opposed casino gambling. But this year, with Senate President Therese Murray as a strong backer of the legislation, Senate Democrats are widely expected to fall in line with their support.
Even Pignatelli, who has been vehement in his opposition, conceded that the latest proposal was an improvement over previous propositions.
"It’s a very solid bill," he said. "I think they’ve actually done a good job."
Both Pignatelli, Cariddi and Mark said their biggest concern going forward is protecting the county’s existing cultural institutions from competition from what they say will amount to gambling-financed mega-venues.
To that end, Pignatelli held a round table with Berkshire arts and theater groups on Monday to discuss legislative amendments that could address those concerns.
"We need to protect the industries and economies we have today, and my goal is to do that and reduce those negative impacts," said Pignatelli.
Material from the Boston Globe was used in this report.
"Path is clear for slots, casinos"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, September 1, 2011
POLITICS AND the greed of competing interests once kept gambling from expanding in the Commonwealth. Minus that drama, casinos and slots are headed to Massachusetts.
A deal was cut after months of closed-door negotiations between the governor, Senate president, and House speaker. Opponents are worn out. Now, they’re talking more about how to regulate gambling and less about how to stop the latest plan for three casinos and one slots-only facility.
For almost two decades, casino developers, racetrack owners, and Native American tribes have been trying to elbow each other aside as they grasp for gambling riches. Last year, Governor Deval Patrick, who has supported so-called resort casinos in the past, backed away from the issue when he needed gambling opponents on his side for reelection. After pretending it wasn’t a priority, he quickly tiptoed back into quiet deal-making with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. Patrick never fulfilled the pledge that he made on Dec. 9, 2009, to seek a “fresh, independent and transparent analysis of the benefits and costs of expanded gambling.’’
But few people seem to care that the rosy job and revenue projections proponents link to expanded gambling in Massachusetts are based on a study that was first produced in 2008 and updated in 2010. Competition from bordering states is also shrugged off as inconsequential. If the numbers don’t add up as predicted, the resulting budget shortfalls will be someone else’s problem.
Meanwhile, where’s the skepticism about who will actually get whichever jobs are created? According to Scott Harshbarger, the former attorney general who heads a group that opposes expanded gambling, the proposed bill includes not one word that would stop lawmakers from representing gambling interests, or from recommending employees, including family members. Without such safeguards written into law, the same patronage system that larded the Probation Department with relatives of Beacon Hill pols will soon operate in casino bars, restaurants, gaming tables, and lobbying operations.
“If this is really about jobs and revenue for the people, what’s the harm in sticking in a provision that none of your relatives could be hired anywhere in the gaming business?’’ asks David F. D’Alessandro, the former chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services, who has given nearly $50,000 to Harshbarger’s group.
You can be for gambling or against it, and still wonder who is really going to hit the jackpot. You might also wonder why the public seems blissfully unaware of the outrages and scandals that are sure to arise.
Harshbarger, who said he is still reading through the 155-page gambling bill, also said it appears to smooth the path for Suffolk Downs, where House Speaker Robert DeLeo has close ties. And sure enough, before the dust rises on a single casino construction site, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Moody’s Investors Services predicts big gains for two Las Vegas-based companies: Caesars Entertainment Corp., which has a deal in place with Suffolk Downs, and International Game Technology, a slots supplier.
It’s funny how the same story repeats itself in Massachusetts. For all the periodic outrage over corrupt deal-making and political patronage, Bay Staters pay scant attention to the sausage-making.
But now is the time, when the bill is still pending, to call for provisions that prohibit lawmakers and their relatives from any casino-related or gambling industry job. Now is the time to demand that casino-generated revenue go directly into the rainy day fund, rather than allow lawmakers to siphon it off for pet causes, or borrow against inflated revenue projections.
There is still a little time left to question whether the benefits really outweigh the costs. Proponents of this bill hail the money it sets aside for treatment of gambling addictions, as if it is somehow praiseworthy to create more addicts and then treat them. By the same logic, perhaps Dana-Farber should urge more people to take up smoking so it can obtain research grants to help treat cancer patients.
There’s nothing creative about casinos. They are not economic game-changers. The unemployment rate in Nevada is among the highest in the nation. And even as gambling sucks money away from people who can’t afford to lose a penny, it also makes a much smaller universe of casino and slots interests outrageously rich.
That universe is fighting for casinos and slots in Massachusetts. And unfortunately, their greedy rivalry may not be enough to do them in this time.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com.
A Boston Globe Editorial
"Casino bill is deeply flawed; rank and file should kill it"
September 8, 2011
AFTER YEARS of false starts, legislative leaders and Governor Patrick hammered out a new agreement behind closed doors last month to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts. It’s a deeply disappointing bill, full of just the kind of inside deals and special-interest giveaways that Patrick once vowed to fight. Now it’s up to rank-and-file lawmakers to reject the plan.
The proposal concocted by Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo would license three resort-style casinos in different regions of the state, along with a single slots parlor. The Commonwealth would pocket 25 percent of the revenues from the casinos, and 40 percent of revenues from slots.
Under the right circumstances, carefully regulated casino gambling should have a place in Massachusetts, providing jobs and stemming the outflow of revenue to casinos in neighboring states. But this proposal falls far short of meeting that standard.
The proposal’s greatest flaw is the inclusion of the slots parlor, which has long been a sticking point in negotiations. Slots would be lucrative for the state, but they create relatively few jobs and are one of the most addictive forms of gambling - which is why Patrick was right to oppose including slots in earlier gambling plans, and why he is wrong to give in now.
The bill also directs 9 percent of revenues from the slots parlor to subsidize purses at horse tracks, satisfying one of DeLeo’s demands. The speaker has been an unusually strong advocate for Suffolk Downs. It’s understandable that he would want to help an ailing business in his district, but such a set-aside is unwarranted.
The horse-racing subsidy is not the only way the bill seems rigged to help Suffolk Downs, which spent $191,000 lobbying in the first six months of this year and hopes to host one of the three casinos. The track would be relieved of part of the approval process that applies elsewhere in the state. At the insistence of the governor and others, the bill gives towns where casinos want to operate the right to hold a referendum. But the legislation exempts communities with a population over 125,000; in those cities, only the ward where the casino is to be located will be allowed to vote. Only Boston, Worcester, and Springfield fit that definition. The effect of the provision would be to prevent the city from voting on gambling at Suffolk Downs. Boston residents need to make clear to their representatives that a vote for the casino bill is a vote against their own constituents. And Patrick needs to explain why his past support for giving residents a say apparently doesn’t extend to most people in Boston.
Any casino legislation should also provide a level playing field for would-be operators. Instead, under the current proposal, Native American tribes would have a one-year head start for the license designated for Southeastern Massachusetts. It effectively amounts to a no-bid contract for the Mashpee Wampanoag, the only tribe likely to complete a proposal in that timeframe. Given the longstanding desire of the tribe to build a casino on its ancestral lands, the provision holds understandable appeal; better that some of the benefits from a casino go to a tribe with a long history in Massachusetts rather than out-of-state gambling operators. But carving out a special process for a group with strong lobbying muscle remains problematic. Patrick opposed no-bid contracts in negotiations last year - and shouldn’t have shifted now.
If Massachusetts is going to embrace an industry with a history of sparking public corruption and attracting organized crime, the state’s legal framework must be above reproach. It’s widely assumed that the Legislature will bow to the leadership and support the deal. But lawmakers need to stand up for the greater good.
"State may give up millions to casinos: Planned tax rate is called too low"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, September 14, 2011
As the state prepares to debate casino gambling today, critics say Massachusetts may be leaving millions of dollars in tax revenue on the table, money that could be used to keep property taxes down and pay for state services.
The proposed bill would give the state 25 cents of every dollar in casino gambling revenue, placing Massachusetts in the middle of the pack nationally. There has been little public debate over whether that figure is enough. Not one of the 154 amendments filed for today’s House debate addresses the tax rate.
But several states that have approved casinos in recent years have charged higher taxes and fees to developers, and that has some analysts questioning if Massachusetts is surrendering too much.
“At 25 percent, I don’t think the taxpayers are getting enough of the benefit,’’ said Jeff Hooke, a Washington investment banker who has studied the fees and tax rates extensively. “The state is giving a legal monopoly. . . . How many businesses get a legal monopoly?’’
Pennsylvania, where casinos began opening in 2007, takes 55 percent of every dollar spent on slot machines and 16 percent from black jack or other table games. Illinois has a graduated tax rate that runs as high as 50 percent and collected about 34 percent last year.
Gambling supporters say that the state has an interest in keeping tax rates low enough to protect profits for casino developers. They argue that overly high taxes and fees could limit casinos’ ability to finance facilities with hotels and other amenities that would employ more people. Many of the highest-taxing states lack hotels in their casinos.
A 25 percent rate, they say, will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify city and town budgets and bolster government services, from arts organizations to transportation projects to schools and fire departments.
The bill would also authorize one slot machine parlor, taxed at 49 percent. Casinos would pay the state an initial licensing fee of at least $85 million, while the slot parlor would pay a $25 million licensing fee. The bill has support from legislative leaders, as well as Governor Deval Patrick.
Since Patrick first proposed casinos four years ago, before the full effect of the economic downturn, the deal for casinos has gotten better. Proposed tax rates have dropped from 27 percent, and licensing fees have decreased from $200 million each.
Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who has helped lead the casino debate, said the state does not want to chill the industry.
“You can kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and our job is to keep that goose healthy,’’ said Rosenberg.
“The tax structure aligns with what other states have successfully used to generate revenue while giving gaming operators the flexibility they need to create jobs and invest in their facilities,’’ said Kimberly Haberlin, a spokeswoman for Patrick’s economic development secretary, Gregory P. Bialecki.
Representative Joseph F. Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee, adds that “we don’t want to price ourselves’’ out of the market.
Proponents also point to competition with Connecticut, where casinos pay 25 percent of their slot revenues to the state, but are exempt from paying taxes on anything else because they are owned by Native American tribes.
“Twenty-five percent is a favorable gaming tax rate [for the developers], but I do think you have to think about what else is in the Northeast that they would have to compete against,’’ said Melissa Long, an analyst with Standard and Poors.
But Long, like others, said that “no one really knows what the right number is.’’
The American Gaming Association, an industry lobby, lists 22 states that license casinos, slot parlors, or video lottery rooms by 2010, not including Indian tribe casinos, which are regulated differently. Direct comparisons of states are difficult, given complicated tax structures used in some states, as well as differences in geography and regulations on which types of slots and table games can be played.
The proposed Massachusetts tax rate is low compared with several Northern states. But Nevada and New Jersey, where rates were set decades ago and gambling is now firmly embedded in the economy, have some of the lowest gambling tax rates in the country, between 6.75 percent and 9.25 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, five states - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, and West Virginia - run so-called video lottery terminals, which look like slot machines, while still complying with state lottery laws. In that system, the state owns the machines and rents them to the operators, who must hand over as much as 73 percent of revenues.
Beyond taxing casinos annually, most states charge one-time licensing fees, sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Massachusetts would create a gambling commission that would have the option of raising the licensing fee in any of the three regions designated for a casino and for the slot parlor, depending on market conditions.
There is some evidence that high taxes or fees hamper development. In Indiana, a pair of race tracks filed for bankruptcy over the past two years, in large part because they had to pay $250 million in licensing fees when they added slot machines. The racetrack casinos remain open, but the operators have said they need the bankruptcy protection so they can restructure the large debt.
A study by the University of Nevada Las Vegas concluded that high tax states have relatively fewer casino-related jobs than states with lower taxes.
Bialecki said the state must look at casinos primarily for their ability to create jobs and long-term economic development.
Tax money has to be a secondary concern, he said, emphasizing the importance of debating the bill outside the pressures of budget season, when the need to plug short-term holes in spending could cloud discussion about economic development.
Two years ago, Ohio voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing casinos and establishing taxes of 33 percent and fees of $50 million.
But when Governor John R. Kasich, a Republican, took office this year, he called it a bad deal and renegotiated with developers, winning hundreds of millions of dollars more in fees for the state.
In Pennsylvania, former governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, argued that his state’s high tax rate delivered $1.3 billion in property tax relief last year without hurting the quality of casinos, at least one of which is building a hotel.
“We’ve got economic development up the gazoo,’’ he said.
Hooke, the Washington banker, said states underestimate what their licenses are worth on the open market.
He has chronicled numerous instances in which developers have resold them at a profit of tens of millions of dollars or more.
He said the argument that taxes lead to fewer amenities is “a complete fiction, constantly repeated by the industry.’’
“The rate of return to the casino companies is pretty good,’’ he said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be building the facility in the first place.’’
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
"State antes up on casino talks: Opponents bash plan as insider deal"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, September 14, 2011
More than 100 Massachusetts House Democrats met privately to hash out the last-minute details of a casino gambling bill yesterday, while opponents stood outside the State House, pointing to the closed talks as evidence that it was an inside deal.
“I have a title for the bill,’’ said Susan Tucker, a recently retired state senator who is leading antigambling crusader. “It’s called the fleecing of the Massachusetts taxpayers.’’
Tucker said the legislation takes from the poor and returns profits to out-of-state billionaires. She warned former colleagues that voters who say they support gambling will become opponents if a casino locates near their homes. “It can be a career-ending vote,’’ she said. “It’s easier to site a landfill than it is a casino.’’
The press conference attracted dozens of critics and was one of the largest antigambling demonstrations since the casino bill was unveiled last month.
Those opponents said that any promised economic benefit to the state from casinos would be outweighed by the costs of increased crime and addiction and that the state’s historic character would be transformed.
“People come from around the world to visit our great Commonwealth,’’ said the Rev. Laura Everett, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. “They don’t come to sit in a windowless slot barn with no clocks and oxygen pumped in that could be anywhere in the world.’’
Starting today, the House is scheduled to debate the bill that would authorize three casinos and one slot machine parlor. That debate could continue into tomorrow before a vote is taken. The Senate is expected to take up the bill at the end of the month.
It has the support of legislative leaders and Governor Deval Patrick, who say it would create jobs and help bolster the state’s budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in casino taxes. A similar bill passed both the House and Senate last year, but never became law because of disagreement between the governor and House leaders over the number and type of gambling facilities.
The debate kicked off yesterday with the closed-door meeting of House Democrats, who hold a large majority in that chamber, as well as in the Senate.
Following that caucus, Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he has spoken with unemployed workers at union halls and believes that casinos will help get them back to work. “They want jobs,’’ he said. “People are really hurting out there, folks.’’
Yesterday’s caucus included discussions on a host of gambling-related issues, including 154 amendments proposed last week, according to DeLeo and others in attendance.
Representative Daniel B. Winslow, a Norfolk Republican, proposed a measure that would make Massachusetts the first state to legalize Internet gambling, in hope that companies would base their operations here. Representative Thomas P. Conroy, a casino opponent and Wayland Democrat running for US Senate, proposed a measure that would encourage higher wages and benefits for casino workers, including on-site daycare. Democrat Cory Atkins of Concord submitted an amendment that would require casino operators to monitor parking lots for children left in parked cars, a problem that has occurred at casinos elsewhere in the country.
DeLeo said a provision in the bill that gives the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe an advantage in negotiating for the right to open a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts drew the most questions in yesterday’s caucus.
Legislators said they also discussed numerous amendments that would affect payments given to communities near casinos to help offset added traffic, crime, and other consequences.
Critics say the negative impact on quality of life will be too significant for money set aside in the bill to repair. “East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop, you have a target on your back,’’ said John Ribeiro, founder of Neighbors of Suffolk Downs. “This is just another back-room deal that represents the special interests and not the people’s interest.’’
The casino bill was drafted following closed negotiations among DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, and Patrick, all Democrats who support expanded gambling. DeLeo defended that process yesterday, saying voters have had the opportunity to express their opinions during years of debate and through their state representatives.
But opponents said many lawmakers’ arms have been twisted, pointing out that support for gambling in the House increased dramatically when DeLeo replaced Salvatore F. DiMasi, a gambling opponent, as speaker.
DeLeo suggested yesterday that many lawmakers changed their positions on their own.
“I disagree with that very strongly,’’ he said. “I think we’ve made the case over the years. Maybe I didn’t have to convince as many people as people would like to think in terms of changing their votes.’’
House majority leader Ronald Mariano said he had no idea how many House members would ultimately vote in favor of the casino bill. “If I could predict that I’d be making money somewhere else,’’ he said.
At a casino? “I wouldn’t do that,’’ he said. “I know the odds.’’
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
"Mass. Senate prepares for gaming debate"
Boston.com - September 18, 2011
BOSTON—The Massachusetts Senate is preparing to debate its own version of a gambling bill that would license three casinos and slots parlors in the state.
Senate lawmakers have until Wednesday to file amendments to the bill that broadly mirrors the gaming bill passed last week by the Massachusetts House by a 123-32 vote. They are scheduled to debate the legislation on Sept. 26.
One notable change in the Senate version increases the application fee for a casino to $400,000 from $350,000. That $50,000 bump covers negotiation costs for communities hosting casinos.
Amendments could offer further changes. More than 150 amendments were filed to the House bill, but few were adopted.
Opponents of expanded gaming have said the Senate is their best bet to stop or weaken the bill.
"Mass. Senate president expects casino bill to pass"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, 9/22/2011
Senate President Therese Murray said today that she expects casino gambling to pass the Senate when it comes up for a vote within the next two weeks, but she does not see the measure as a historic change for the Commonwealth.
“Most people I talk to, unless they are philosophically opposed, it’s no big deal,” she said in an interview this afternoon in her office. “It’s like a no-brainer.”
Murray was joined in the interview by Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who has been heavily involved in steering the gambling debate, and three members of her staff.
Murray cited the promise of thousands of jobs as the key to her support.
She characterized the bill, which would authorize three casinos and a slot machine parlor, as an evolution in a state that already allows significant gambling.
“Forty years ago, when they put the lottery in, that was the change,” she said.
Murray supported casino gambling last year, when a bill passed in both the House and the Senate but was derailed by a dispute with Governor Deval Patrick over the number and types of gambling venues that would be allowed.
Murray joked that she needed to make sure the bill gets passed this year “because my older and younger sister want to make sure this happens” so they don’t have to drive to Connecticut anymore to play penny slots once a month.
Still, Murray has been less passionate in her support than Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. This year, Murray, Patrick, and DeLeo worked out their differences behind closed doors before a bill became public, increasing the likelihood that it will become law.
DeLeo led the House in passing the bill overwhelmingly last week. Murray said the Senate will begin debate on a similar bill Monday. But a vote will likely not be taken next week. Senators have a number of legislative maneuvers at their disposal, which can delay debate for several days. And the chamber will not debate gambling on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, because Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins Wednesday night. Last year, the Senate stretched its debate over eight days.
Senators have introduced 182 amendments, including several that will affect local communities near potential casino sites.
One amendment would require Boston and other large cities to grant approval in a citywide vote if a casino wants to locate there. The current bill only requires a citywide vote in smaller cities and towns. In Boston, it would require only a vote of the local ward, meaning only East Boston residents would get to vote if Suffolk Downs gets a casino license.
Murray said she supports keeping it that way.
“If a developer were successful in East Boston, they are really separated from the rest of the city by a tunnel,” she said.
She disputed the notion that a casino in East Boston would change the character of the entire city.
“Wonderland and Suffolk Downs have been there for years and years and years ,and that was always part of the culture,” she said. “If they are the successful bidder – and we don’t know that. It’s way too soon for that. – they’re going to have live racing again that’s going to be really beefed up. The racing is going to be beefed up. So it will be an attraction as well.”
Rosenberg said the bill requires casinos to pay the cost of State Police troopers who would patrol the casinos. Rosenberg said the bill, like those in other states, allows problem gamblers to put themselves on an exclusion list. He said the bill would be the first in the country to allow people to petition courts to have their relatives placed on the exclusion list.
Rosenberg said most people who have a gambling problem already have access to nearby casinos, though he conceded there would be some new addicts created in communities near casino sites.
Opponents argue the social costs of gambling will outweigh any benefits. Murray said she worries about addiction, but believes money in the bill for addiction services and other provisions will protect against those problems.
“This is a jobs creation bill and that’s primarily why we’re doing it,” she said.
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.
"Sen. Downing files fix to casino bill"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 25, 2011
Ben Downing thinks bringing casino gambling to Massachusetts is a terrible idea.
But the state senator who represents the Berkshires is also confident that the latest proposal will ultimately be approved, opening the door to the construction of three resort-style casinos in the state, including one in Western Massachusetts.
In an attempt to make what he says is a bad bill slightly more palatable, Downing has filed an amendment that would require any casinos that are constructed to receive 75 percent of their energy from renewable sources.
Make no mistake: Even if his amendment passes, he isn’t voting for the bill.
"In the end, I still won’t think expanding gambling is the right path for us to go down in Massachusetts. I’ll still absolutely vote against it," the Pittsfield Democrat said.
Downing may be outnumbered in the Senate, but the bill’s critics have filed nearly 200 proposed amendments that the Senate will take up for debate in the coming weeks.
Many of the amendments that have been filed focus on safe-guarding cities and towns that could become home to a casino. For example, the legislation would require any vote that would allow a gaming hall in a community to take place on the same day as a state or local election.
The bill currently requires residents of any potential host community to vote to allow a gambling hall in their city or town, but putting the vote on a larger ballot would ensure higher turnout, say the amendment’s supporters.
The closest proposed location to Berkshire County for a Western Massachusetts casino is Holyoke.
Downing is also co-sponsoring two amendments -- one would allow more state revenue from the new casinos to go into the public higher education system.
The other aims to address casino gambling’s potential impact on the state’s cultural institutions by changing the way cultural mitigation funds generated under the bill are distributed.
Berkshire Theater Group, which runs The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, is among the local arts groups that have expressed concern that competition from venues in casinos could harm their businesses.
Under the version of the bill passed by the House last week, state venues that show they were negatively impacted by a venue within a new casino would be eligible for state funding.
However, there are still concerns that casinos will be able to monopolize large and mid-sized acts by being able to pay more and making performers sign exclusivity contracts.
State Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and Paul W. Mark, D-Hancock, were among the bill’s supporters in the House. They argued the bill will create jobs and stimulate the state’s sputtering economy.
Meanwhile, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli voted against the bill.
Pignatelli and Downing have both said that, while they respect the freshman representatives’ position, they think there are better ways to boost state revenue and create jobs.
Downing said he remains opposed because the issue hasn’t been studied thoroughly enough, while Pignatelli calls it "lazy economic development."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
"Top Robert DeLeo aide called casinos ‘fool’s gold’"
By Hillary Chabot And Chris Cassidy - www.bostonherald.com - Local Coverage - September 29, 2011
A top staffer to House Speaker Robert DeLeo once warned that Bay State casino revenue would amount to “fool’s gold” that would cannibalize a successful state Lottery and would be an economic wash in which the commonwealth would “scarcely break even,” in a set of memos being circulated by critics of expanded gaming.
“It’s a great example of how, depending on who the speaker is, employees develop research that supports (the speaker’s) point of view,” said Tom Larkin, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.
James C. Kennedy — now DeLeo’s general counsel — blasted casino gambling in two memos while working for then-state Rep. Daniel Bosley, a high-ranking casino critic.
In the 21-page memo, which was written in 2004, Kennedy wrote: “In conclusion, the reemergence of the issue of expanded gambling can only be described as an unscrupulous move by the gaming industry toward exploiting our present fiscal vulnerability with the promise of ‘fool’s gold.’ ”
Despite the influx of gambling revenue, “we will, with a bit of luck, scarcely break even,” Kennedy wrote.
Another memo in 2006 claimed casino gambling would cripple the state Lottery in a chapter called “Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg” and goes on to run counter to DeLeo’s assertion that casinos will boost the state economy.
“The reality is that expanded gambling does not lead to economic development and any tax revenue generated by expanded gambling is regressive and unstable,” wrote Kennedy.
A spokesman for DeLeo’s office did not return requests for comment.
“When we look at the turnstile in Massachusetts politics, including the number of rank and file legislators that have flip-flopped on this issue, it’s clear that it’s more than a trend, it is a toxic pattern of behavior on Beacon Hill, and that’s why citizens are disgusted,” said Kathleen Conley Norbut, a member of the anti-expanded gaming group Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts.
Casino critics have dusted off and recirculated the memos in the weeks leading up to the debate in the state Senate, which wrapped up for a second day yesterday.
“I would just say that I think it’s important for all legislators to take a look at those memos,” said state Sen. Jamie Eldridge. “They’re still relevant today.”
"Mass. Senate passes casino gambling bill"
By Boston Globe Staff - 10/13/2011
The Massachusetts Senate this afternoon approved casino gambling, bolstering the likelihood that slot machines and full-scale table games will be coming to the Commonwealth.
The bill, which passed 24-14, included a rare vote from Senate President Therese Murray who cast her “yes” in a roll call vote just after 4 p.m.
The plan would authorize three “resort” casinos and one slots-only gambling parlor in Massachusetts. The House passed a similar version of the bill last month. Now the measure goes to a joint House-Senate conference committee where lawmakers will reconcile the differences that now exist in the two versions.
Once a final proposal has been ironed out, the legislation will head to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature. Patrick has indicated initial support for the plan.
Beacon Hill lawmakers have proposed legalizing casinos sporadically for decades. The support grew more substantial over the past two years, due to stubbornly high unemployment and a new consensus of a governor and two legislative chiefs who favor the idea.
Last year, a similar bill passed the House and the Senate before a disagreement with Patrick over the size and type of the facilities derailed it. Lawmakers who support the idea say the state is desperate for jobs and a new stream of tax money.
"Mass. Senate roll call vote on casinos, slots bill"
Boston.com - October 13, 2011
BOSTON—Here's how members of the Massachusetts Senate voted Thursday on a bill to license three casinos and one slot machine parlor in the state. The Senate voted 24-14 in favor of the bill. The House last month voted 123-32 to back their version of a similar legislation.
A "yes" vote was in favor of the bill; a "no" vote was in opposition to the bill.
Steven A. Baddour, D-Methuen - Y
Frederick E. Berry, D-Peabody - Y
Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre - Y
Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham - Y
Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester - Y
Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston - N
Katherine Clark, D-Melrose - Y
Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton - N
Sal N. DiDomenico, D-Everett - Y
Kenneth J. Donnelly, D-Arlington - N
Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell - Y
Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfied - N
James B. Eldridge, D-Acton - N
Susan C. Fargo, D-Lincoln - N
Barry R. Finegold, D-Andover - N
Jennifer L. Flanagan, D-Leominster - Y
John A. Hart, D-Boston - Y
Robert L. Hedlund, R-Weymouth - X
Patricia D. Jehlen, D-Somerville - N
Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton - Y
John F. Keenan, D-Quincy - N
Thomas P. Kennedy, D-Brockton - Y
Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield - Y
Thomas M. McGee, D-Lynn - Y
Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford - N
Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury - Y
Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge - N
Therese Murray, D-Plymouth - Y
Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton - Y
Anthony Petruccelli, D-Boston - Y
Michael J. Rodrigues, D-Quincy - N
Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst - Y
Richard J. Ross, R-Wrentham - Y
Michael F. Rush, D-Boston - X
Karen E. Spilka, D-Ashland - N
Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester - Y
James E. Timilty, D-Walpole - Y
Steven A. Tolman, D-Boston - Y
James T. Welch, D-West Springfield - Y
Daniel A. Wolf, D-Westport - N
X not voting
"Mass. Senate clears casino plan"
Staff and wire reports - Berkshire Eagle - October 14, 2011
BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Senate has approved a casino gambling bill that supporters argued would create jobs and generate new tax revenue but that critics predicted would bring grim social consequences that outweigh any economic benefits.
The 24-14 vote on Thursday followed several days of debate during which senators adopted dozens of amendments while rejecting more than 100 others.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, voted against the bill, though he conceded that the Senate's amendments improved the legislation by, among other things, increasing the amount of revenue that will be available to state colleges and universities.
"It's better than the version we started with," he said.
The next step in the process will be resolving differences between the Senate bill and a similar one passed by the House last month.
Both versions call for three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in Massachusetts. One of the casinos would be in the eastern part of the state, one in the western area and one in southeastern Massachusetts.
The closest proposed location to Berkshire County is Holyoke.
Bids for the casinos would start at $85 million, and one of the three licenses would go to a federally recognized American Indian tribe.
Twenty-five percent of casino revenue and 40 percent of slots revenue would be returned to the state and its cities and towns.
"This is an economic development bill," said Senate President Therese Murray after the vote. "It's going to create jobs and we have over 250,000 people out of work in the commonwealth and that's why we are doing this."
Opponents of the bill said they were disappointed but not surprised by the vote.
Foes say casinos bring with them increased crime, addictive gambling and a variety of other social ills. And they have questioned the economic figures offered by supporters.
Shortly before final passage, the Senate approved an amendment that could allow for a citywide referendum in Boston before a casino could be located in the city.
The Senate rejected an amendment Downing filed that would have required the casinos to get 75 percent of their energy from renewable resources.
The needs of the county's cultural institutions, however, were adequately addressed, Downing said.
Berkshire Theatre Group, which runs The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, is among the local arts groups that have expressed concern that competition from venues in casinos could harm their businesses.
Downing said that, although a state fund to mitigate any negative economic impact has been set up under the legislation, he's still concerned that casinos will be able to monopolize large and mid-sized acts by forcing performers to sign contracts that prohibit them from playing other nearby venues.
The differences between the House and Senate bills that must be worked out by a six-member conference committee that could be appointed within days.
Sen. Stephen Brewer, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and a casino supporter, said he didn't view differences between the two branches as an obstacle to final passage of the bill.
"I don't think it's the differences but the similarities that are important," Brewer said.
Supporters of casino gambling have predicted it will create as many as 15,000 jobs in Massachusetts, including 6,000 temporary construction jobs, and generate at least $300 million in new annual revenue for the state and its cities and towns. Backers also say Massachusetts residents who typically travel to casinos in neighboring Connecticut or other states would be more likely to stay in Massachusetts and go to casinos there.
An anti-casino group led by former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger blasted the job creation estimates as "wildly optimistic" and called the revenue projections outdated because they were based on pre-recession data.
A casino bill died in the final days of last year's legislative session after Gov. Deval Patrick objected to the inclusion of two slots parlors designated for Massachusetts racetracks. The key provisions of the current bill were negotiated largely behind closed doors by Patrick, Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Harshbarger said he expected the conference committee negotiations to be equally secretive.
"After weeks of so-called ‘debate,' the process now goes back behind closed doors where key differences in this bill will be hammered out the same way the bill was written -- in secret, with no transparency or public voice," he said in a statement.
Staff writer Ned Oliver and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
There are still several steps to go before the bill is finalized:
* Minor differences between the House and Senate versions need to be ironed out in a joint conference committee. The process is expected to take a month.
* That revised version needs to go back before the Senate and House for a final vote.
* The bill then goes before the governor for final approval.
"Casino bill edges closer to governor’s desk"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, 11/15/2011
The Massachusetts House and Senate have each given tentative approval this afternoon to a final compromise version of the casino bill. The proposal must receive full approval by each chamber before heading to the governor’s desk.
The final version of the plan calls for three full-scale casinos and one slot parlor across the state.
It also increases money devoted to propping up the state’s horse racing industry, and requires state officials involved in creating the gambling bill to wait a year after they leave government before accepting a job in the casino industry. House and Senate negotiators killed a controversial provision that would have allowed happy hours at bars around the state.
In a brief interview this afternoon, Patrick said he was surprised to see that money was added to the horse fund and taken away from local aid. He wouldn’t say directly whether he will request any amendments, but expressed confidence that he will be able to sign it. “It looks like a long chapter in the debate around gambling has closed,” he said.
"Senate, House approve casino legislation sans ‘happy hour'"
Associated Press, November 15, 2011
BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts lawmakers have approved a compromise of a bill designed to license up to three resort-style casinos and a single slots parlor.
The House voted 118-to-33 Tuesday afternoon to accept the final version of the bill. The Senate quickly followed, approving the bill on a 23-14 vote.
Each chamber must take a final procedural vote Tuesday before shipping the bill to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk.
Patrick said he's still reviewing the bill, but it appears to be something he could support.
The final bill drops a Senate amendment that could have eased restrictions on happy hours at bars and restaurants. The bill would allow casinos to offer free drinks on the gaming floor.
It also bars state lawmakers and officials from working in the casino industry for at least one year after leaving office.
"Convicted Speaker 'Set Up' By Casino Forces, Wife Claims"
Salvatore DiMasi Convicted In Bribery Scheme
TheBostonChannel.com - November 15, 2011
BOSTON -- The wife of convicted and disgraced ex-Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said she believes her husband is innocent and was targeted by forces who wanted casino gambling legalized in Massachusetts.
"He had nothing to do with it," Deborah DiMasi said of the bribery scheme that a jury found her husband was a part of. "He didn't do what he's accused of."
In June, Sal DiMasi was found guilty of conspiracy, fraud and extortion -- pocketing $65,000 in bribes -- as part of a complex scheme to secure multimillion dollar contracts for a Canadian software firm. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and is scheduled to begin serving his term on Nov. 30.
"He was the only man standing in the way of the casino industry, and they wanted him out! If he had passed casinos, I don't think this would have happened," Deborah DiMasi claimed in an exclusive interview with NewsCenter 5’s Liz Brunner.
Deborah DiMasi said her husband was against casinos, in part, because he grew up with a gambling father and saw firsthand the destruction an addiction can bring to a family.
Deborah DiMasi called the government's case against her husband weak. She believes the jury should have been allowed to learn and understand the difference between state and federal lobbying laws. Had that happened, she said, there would have been a different outcome to her husband's trial.
"So much of what I heard (in court) was just so insanely outrageous! And it's very frustrating not to be able to get up and stand up and scream,” she said.
Sal DiMasi is the third consecutive House speaker forced out by scandal.
Thomas Finneran, convicted of obstruction of justice, was put on probation. Charles Flaherty pleaded guilty to tax evasion and ethics violations and was fined in excess of $50,000.
Sal DiMasi is the only one to go to jail.
"I feel Sal is being punished for a lot of other things, and he's unfortunately the one they're trying to make an example of by giving him such a harsh sentence," she said.
Deborah DiMasi said she never had to ask her husband if he was guilty because, she said, she knows him. "I know the kind of man he is. He's kind, smart, loved his job, loved what he did and was very good at it."
"All your hopes and dreams are gone. I can't imagine him not being here, and it's a very hard thing. It's too big to wrap your head around that it's real,” she said.
Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday did pass a final version of a bill designed to license up to three resort-style casinos and a single slots parlor in the state.
"Patrick signs casino bill into law"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, 11/22/2011 12:14 PM
Governor Deval Patrick has signed the bill legalizing casinos in Massachusetts, ending a years long battle on Beacon Hill and paving the way for full-scale casinos and slots in this state.
In a bill-signing ceremony in his office this morning, the governor, flanked by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, made Massachusetts the 40th state in the country to legalize casinos and slot parlors.
“Now the work will turn to getting it right in the implementation,” Patrick said as he put his signature on the bill just after 10:30 a.m.
The historic signing follows years of intense lobbying by the casino industry and several near misses in the Legislature. The bill, approved by lawmakers on a final vote in the waning hours of the legislative session last week, allows three full-scale casinos and one slot machine parlor.
Speaking at this morning’s ceremony, DeLeo said, “there were times when I would question whether we would ever come to this day.”
Senate President Therese Murray, who bristled at the attention gambling received at the end of the legislative session, did not attend today’s signing. But lawmakers who helped craft the legislation were there, along with former state senator Steven Tolman, who stepped down from the Senate weeks ago to lead the state’s AFL-CIO, a major casino backer.
Lawmakers say the slot parlor, which requires minimal investment, could open within a year. There is disagreement over how long it will take to open the casinos: a state report has suggested a five-year timetable is possible while proponents have said it could take as little as three to four years.
Supporters, including Patrick and the state’s other most powerful Democrats, say casinos will help reduce the state’s unemployment problem and revitalize the state budget. They say state residents are already spending freely at casinos in neighboring states.
Opponents counter that the state will lose money combating increased crime and dependency and diminish residents’ quality of life through increased addiction.
The focus on gambling now shifts to where casinos will be located. The bill allows for three casinos in separate regions of the state: one in the Boston area that extends to Worcester; one for Western Massachusetts; and a third for Southeastern Massachusetts. The bill gives the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe a leg up in winning the right to operate in the Southeastern part of the state.
In addition to the three casinos, the slot machine parlor can open anywhere in the state.
A powerful five-member state gambling commission will choose which developers win the right to open the casinos. The bill gives Governor Patrick, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and Attorney General Martha Coakley 120 days to appoint the commissioners. The commission will also set up key regulations, including the rate slot machines will have to pay out to bettors.
The commission will choose developers based on a number of factors, including a requirement that they win local approval in a ballot referendum to open a gambling facility.
In legalizing casinos, Massachusetts joins a growing group of states.
The American Gaming Association lists 16 states that allow standard casinos under state laws. In addition, 12 states allow slot machines at state race tracks while Indian tribes operate gambling facilities in 28 states. The association says 39 states have at least one form of slot, casino, or tribal gambling.
Massachusetts state lawmakers hope to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees and taxes from the casinos. They have committed to using the proceeds on a host of causes, including local aid, health care reform, addiction prevention, and assistance to the struggling horse racing industry.
Gambling has dominated talk on Beacon Hill for much of the last several years. Last year, there was general agreement among Patrick and powerful lawmakers who favored legalizing casinos. But the deal fell apart, even after it passed both the House and Senate, because Patrick disagreed with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo over the number and type of slot facilities.
This year, Beacon Hill’s top players settled the major issues behind closed doors before collectively releasing the bill.
Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Steve Crosby. Photo by Patrick Whittemore (File).
"State gaming chief urges casino owners to 'think big'"
By AP Wire, 1/18/2012
BOSTON - The head of the state's nascent gaming commission has some advice for would-be casino developers lining up to cash in on Massachusetts' new gambling law.
Be creative. Think outside the box.
"I like the idea of saying to these people, 'Take the wraps off. Let's think big,"' said Stephen Crosby, who was named by Gov. Deval Patrick last month to chair the five-member panel that will award licenses for up to three casinos and one slots parlor in the state.
"Obviously, you're in it to make money. That's fine. If you can figure out a way to make money that is going to be consistent with our value structure and what we lay out as the primary values, go for it," Crosby said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Once the commission is fully formed - Crosby is the only member appointed to date - one of its first tasks will be drafting a formal call for bidders on the casino licenses.
Crosby, a former state Secretary of Administration and Finance, sees two ways to approach the task. One envisions a rigid set of guidelines and financial benchmarks that he said would make it relatively easy to compare competing proposals and make decision-making more objective.
Another option, he said, is to write a broad, conceptual invitation for bids that would lay out a system of values that maximizes job creation and other economic benefits of casinos while minimizing the potentially negative impacts feared by casino opponents.
"Then you say to these hugely wealthy, creative - presumably - people, 'Come to us with your best shot. You think outside the box, you say how you want to do this."'
Such an open-ended call for proposals would lead to a more subjective decision-making process for the commission, he said, and one that he clearly prefers. But Crosby also recognizes a potential pitfall in this approach: the possibility of lawsuits from losing bidders.
Crosby, 66, readily admits to being as unfamiliar with the world of casino gambling as most Massachusetts residents. He plans to travel to other states to learn more about the good, bad and ugly of casinos.
The visits would include meetings with civic leaders and interest groups to find out whether casino operators kept their promises after setting up shop in a community, he said. Crosby also plans to meet with people who work with compulsive gamblers.
Once up and running, the commission can expect no shortage of big-name, deep-pocketed casino suitors.
On Thursday, MGM Resorts International announced it was partnering with a local landowner to develop a resort casino on a 150-acre site in Brimfield. That plan would face stiff competition for the sole western Massachusetts license with Mohegan Sun, which is pursuing a casino in Palmer, and from developers eyeing sites in Springfield, Holyoke and possibly Chicopee.
In eastern Massachusetts, another major Las Vegas casino operator, Steve Wynn, has teamed with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the hopes of developing a resort casino near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The owners of the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston have also made clear they will seek a casino license.
The third license, pegged for the southeastern part of the state, hinges initially on the ability of a federally recognized Indian tribe to reach a casino compact with the state. If no such deal is struck by July 1, several private developers could enter the fray.
The framers of the casino law Patrick signed in November predicted it would net the state at least $300 million in annual revenue, with casinos taxed at 25 percent of gambling proceeds. But making money for Massachusetts is only third on Crosby's list of priorities.
"I'm personally not going to get hung up on trying to make sure that we maximize the revenue generation for the commonwealth," he said, unless it was consistent with his higher priorities.
Priority one, he said, is to ensure that casino gambling is implemented in a way that avoids corruption and minimizes negative consequences for host communities. The second priority is economic development and job creation.
"The governor is clear that he's not into this because he's got stars in his eyes about (revenue)," Crosby said. "He does have stars in his eyes about jobs."
Crosby will take a leave from his job as dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has committed to serving two years in the gaming post. That means he could depart before any casino actually opens in the state, estimated at three to five years from now.
No matter what safeguards are in place, it might be difficult to convince an often cynical public that the casino selection process is on the level, Crosby acknowledged.
Using a common expletive to describe a disliked individual, Crosby said there would be times he must act like such a person - even to people he knows well - to prevent any hint of favoritism. He offered one recent example.
"Somebody called me and said, 'I need to talk off the record.' I said, 'I can't talk to you off the record. There is no off the record on this."'
"Job one for gaming panel: Stop corruption"
By Chris Cassidy - www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics, January 19, 2012
The head of the state’s soon-to-be-formed gaming commission warned at a business breakfast this morning that corruption in the casino licensing process will be hard to detect and challenging to stop.
“There are going to be a lot of temptations,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Steve Crosby told business leaders and casino insiders at the Westin Boston Waterfront this morning. “Not just bribes, but other areas where there are conflicts of interest, which can be subtle.
“If we can do this without problems, so people think it’s on the level, if we can do this without corruption... if we can avoid terrible negatives, I’ll feel good,” said Crosby. “That’s a modest aspiration, but if you look around the United States, a lot of states haven’t reached that level of modest aspiration.”
Asked afterward if some level of corruption is inevitable, Crosby said he hoped not. But the process for licensing casinos is so complex and multi-leveled that the gaming commission may not even know if shady dealings have occurred — a problem the commission has to iron out, he said.
“How will our commission be able to know that every single step in the process will be done in a pure and pristine fashion?” said Crosby.
“How will we ever know whether a selectman somewhere talks to somebody in a way they shouldn’t? So it’ll be incredibly hard to ensure the process is a really, really, straight one. ... We’re going to have to try like hell to figure out how to do that.”
The Bay State will license up to three casinos and a slots parlor.
Crosby said it would take between nine and 18 months before the commission starts seeking proposals and three to six months after that before decisions will start to be made. Licensing the state’s one slots parlor could take less time, he said .
The four other members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission must be appointed by March 21.
Crosby expects the gambling industry could pump between $2 billion and $4 billion into Massachusetts.
He joked his stepson gave him a thoughtful Christmas gift — the book “Casino Gambling for Dummies.”
It made for some light reading, but otherwise wasn’t much help, he said.
“I skimmed the whole thing,” said Crosby. “It’s mostly about how to win at card games.”
Meanwhile, Suffolk Downs announced today that former Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans will be the track’s executive vice president of security and compliance.
He had been working as a security consultant at Suffolk Downs since 2009.
After nine years as commissioner, Evans left the BPD for London in 2003, taking a high-profile job as the director of Britain’s Police Standards Unit.
"Casinos industry spent millions lobbying in Mass."
BerkshireEagle.com - Associated Press - February 20, 2012
BOSTON (AP) -- When Beacon Hill lawmakers finally adopted a bill to legalize casino gambling, it wasn’t just a victory for would-be high rollers or Massachusetts’ cash-strapped cities and towns.
It was also a long-awaited -- and pricey -- win for a casino industry that had longed hoped for a toehold in the state.
To press its case at the Statehouse and win over wavering lawmakers, the industry hired a small army of lobbyists who, year after year, steadily made the argument for expanded gambling in Massachusetts.
In just the past five years, the tally for all that lobbying topped $11.4 million, according to a review of state lobbying records by The Associated Press.
Overall spending on lobbying steadily increased year after year as the pressure built to approve a bill.
In 2007, the total lobbying tab on the casino issue was nearly $1.3 million. By 2011, that grew to more than $3.1 million.
Many of the companies that lobbied hardest for the expanded gambling law are now actively pursuing the three casino licenses created by the legislation.
The company that easily spent the most on lobbying was Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack and is hoping to turn the East Boston facility into a destination casino.
From 2007 to 2011, the track spent more than $2.8 million on lobbying, according to the AP review.
Another big spender was the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which also is hoping to win one of the three casino licenses. During the past five years, the tribe spent nearly $850,000 on lobbying expenses.
The law gives federally recognized tribes like the Mashpee Wampanoags until July 31 to negotiate a gaming compact in the southeast part of the state.
There was plenty of out-of-state lobbying money flowing into Massachusetts.
Development Associates, LLC, a Las Vegas-based subsidiary of casino and hotel developer Steve Wynn, spent more than $863,000 on lobbying in just the past three years.
Wynn is hoping to win one of the licenses. He’s teamed with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to propose a casino in Foxborough.
Las Vegas Sands Corporation, another casino company, has spent nearly $473,000 on lobbying during the same time period.
Two other companies hoping to land casino licenses also doled out hefty sums on lobbying.
Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc. spent nearly $197,000 on lobbying during the past five years while Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, which is eyeing a casino for Brimfield, spent $60,000.
The money spent on lobbying went to a range of activities.
Of the $850,600 that Sterling Suffolk Racecourse spent on lobbying just in 2010, about half -- or $426,960 -- went to pay the salary of lobbyists including seven separate firms and two individuals.
The remaining money -- about $423,640 -- went to such items printing and public relations consulting to advertising, cellphone bills, bus rentals, hats and T-shirts and the creation of a website to support the casino push.
Finally, just days before Thanksgiving, Patrick finally signed the bill -- the largest single expansion of legalized gambling in Massachusetts since the creation of the state lottery 40 years earlier.
Decisions of whom gets casino licenses fall exclusively to a yet-unnamed five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The law gives the commission the power not only to choose which casino proposals get the coveted licenses but also to regulate and investigate the new gambling facilities.
The law calls for Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman to each appoint one member to the commission, with Patrick naming the chair. The remaining two members will be chosen jointly by Patrick, Coakley and Grossman.
So far the only Patrick has named his choice for the first chairman of the commission, Stephen Crosby.
"Mass. casino panel holds first meeting"
By Associated Press - www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics, April 10, 2012
The state’s new Gaming Commission, meeting for the first time, has voted to begin negotiations with two New Jersey-based private consultants to help lay the foundation for casino gambling in Massachusetts.
The five-member panel voted today to reach out to Spectrum Gaming Corp., and the law firm of Michael & Carroll. Representatives of both firms made presentations to the commission during the initial meeting at UMass-Boston, citing their experience with regulating casinos and gambling-related law enforcement investigations in New Jersey and elsewhere.
The commission also voted to retain the Cambridge-based law firm of Anderson & Krieger to assist in developing ethics guidelines and other legal matters.
The panel’s very first act was to adopt a mission statement promising to pursue the greatest possible economic development benefits for Massachusetts while avoiding "potentially negative or unintended consequences" of casino gambling.
March 26, 2015
Re: Casino gambling is just another form of regressive taxation
I watched the PBS new show "Greater Boston" this evening, and the state government official who was interviewed misleadingly said that Massachusetts is going forward with casino gambling because over one billion dollars per year are being spent by local residents in neighboring states. He said that the state government's cut will be over $250 million per year, plus about 10,000 new jobs.
Just like the state lottery, casino gambling is just another form of regressive taxation. Instead of Massachusetts raising revenues from wealthy businesses and residents, state government politicians are going to exploit the working class and poor. That is what he should have said, instead of citing the inequitable financial and job numbers.
Anyone with a financial brain knows that the lottery and casinos are like unethical banks that pay pennies on the dollar. A gambler may win, which is like a cash advance, but in the long run he or she will lose (a lot of) money.
Studies have been done where if a person saved their money, instead of gambling, through reasonable (risk averse) investments over one's lifetime, they would accumulate about $250 thousand dollars by the time they retire as a Senior Citizen. That is what the state lottery and casino gambling is taking from the average have-not household over a period of about 30 years! It is all financially regressive, which means it hurts the worst off citizens the most.
- Jonathan Melle
The Plainridge Park Casino was crowded at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday [June 24th, 2015], after it opened to the public. John Tlumacki/Globe staff.
"Plainridge Park Casino officially opens its doors"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, June 24, 2015
PLAINVILLE — Some danced down the carpet, high-fiving their way toward the beckoning slot machines. Others came on crutches or wheelchairs. They were the gamblers and dreamers who thronged to the Plainridge Park Casino Wednesday to share in a moment in Massachusetts history.
The era of legal Las Vegas-style gaming dawned in the state Wednesday, and within an hour after opening, it looked like a wild success: Throngs swarmed into every corner of the gleaming new slot parlor, and set all 1,250 machines ringing at once.
“This is what it feels like to be a celebrity,” said Ed Beauregard, a 74-year-old retiree from Northbridge, after he and his wife, Nancy, were cheered by casino employees on their way in.
Many more chose to skip a sunny summer day to gamble indoors, and within three hours after opening, the casino had hit its fire department-imposed capacity of 3,750 people. Patrons said they waited about 15 minutes to get in. Some cashiers had to close temporarily because they had run out of money.
The sensational turnout was a welcome sign for Plainridge, which is projecting to direct as much as $250 million in revenue to the state in its first two years. To do that, the parlor needs to make nearly twice as much money on each of its 1,500 slot and video blackjack machines as its Connecticut competitors, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
One of the driving forces behind Massachusetts becoming the 40th state in the country to allow casinos is the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues that state residents have left behind in casinos in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“As of today, we have to be considered the major player in the New England casino industry,” said Jay Ash, who as secretary of housing and economic development represented the Baker Administration at the grand opening. “We want to keep our gambling money home.”
Dave Reilly, 66, who arrived from Lowell with his wife Linda, is just the kind of guy Plainridge is looking for. Reilly said he would rather gamble – and lose his money – in his home state rather than taking the couple’s usual trips to Twin River in Rhode Island. About the odds he faces as a gambler, Reilly said, “We don’t do it for a living.”
“Good thing,” added his wife.
Reilly was also one of those who struggled to find a place to play in the afternoon, when crowds briefly tested Plainridge’s ability to serve them as long lines formed at the food court, the cash-out machines and even in some bathrooms.
Plainville Police Chief Jim Alfred said traffic on Route 1 outside the casino was backed up for about one-half mile in both directions and on the exit ramps from Interstate 495 to Route 1. “We assume it’s going to be like this through the weekend,” he said.
The parlor’s managers focused on the bigger picture.
“It’s been a fabulous success,” said Lance George, the facility’s general manager. He said he expected to exceed his goal of 10,000 people in the first 12 hours of operation.
“A lot of us have put a lot of work in getting this place ready,” said Ray Fuller, a purchasing manager who came upstairs for this office cubicle to witness history.
“We are proud and happy for all this,” he said.
In a state that traces its history to Puritan settlers who practiced a faith that looked askance at worldly pleasures, Plainridge represents a stark cultural break. As hundreds gambled, show girls in elaborate costumes and feathered headwear frolicked and the drinks flowed freely.
Earlier, when it came time for Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby to declare the casino open at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured former Boston Red Sox star Fred Lynn and football great Doug Flutie, he chose these words: “It’s show time.”
Flutie runs a restaurant in the parlor, and his 1984 Heisman Trophy stands in the center of the casino, greeting betters as they walk in.
The 2011 state casino law passed after years of debate, pushed by Governor Deval Patrick as a source of revenue – as much as $400 million a year when two bigger, resort-style casinos come on line in 2018.
Patrick also considered it a jobs bill, likely to put 10,000 people to work. House Speaker Robert DeLeo through his support behind the bill after a healthy share of casino revenue was dedicated to supporting horse racing in the state.
Plainridge is owned by Penn National, one of the country’s top casino companies, which has sunk $100 million into the project.
“We’re going to be here a long time,” said Tim Wilmott, Penn National’s chief executive officer.
“Our typical customer is between 50 and 70 years old, half of them retired, many with families they have raised,” he said. “They have paid off the mortgage and they have a little extra time and money to spend.”
Judging by license plates on the cars in the parking garage, Plainridge on its first day not only kept Massachusetts gamblers home, it also attracted a sizeable contingent from Rhode Island and a smattering of folks from Maine, New Hampshire and New York.
Mary Carlozzi,60, of New Bedford, could barely contain her excitement as she arrived at the casino with two of her daughters, one of whom is about to be married. “We are here to win money for her wedding,” Carlozzi laughed.
The Carlozzi’s make family reunions out of their casino outings.
“My three sisters wanted to come too, but they had to take a rain check until they have more money,” Carlozzi said, still laughing.
By early evening, some of the novelty was wearing off. Carol Caranci, 74, of North Providence, R.I., said she was concentrating so intensely on playing the slot machines that she was barely aware of her surroundings.
“I’m up about $30,” she said before dropping her head back down to play.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
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