Telegram & Gazette: Odds good expanded state gambling comes up a winner this time

“I oppose expanding gambling in Massachusetts with every bone in my body,” Mr. Eldridge said, because he argues it will hurt small businesses, local and state budgets, and “tens of thousands of Massachusetts families.” Mr. Eldridge said more gambling options would create more problem gamblers, increase foreclosures and bankruptcies, increase domestic violence, child neglect, suicide rates and “general social misery.”

10/28/09
By John Monahan

Rising unemployment, state and local budget crises and the resignation of the state’s most powerful expanded gambling opponent, former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, are among factors putting casino and racino proposals in a more favorable light on Beacon Hill as lawmakers take up the debate anew starting tomorrow.

Pro-gambling forces will once again clash with gambling opponents at a public hearing before a key legislative committee that is expected to propose legalizing casino gambling and slot parlors in January.

And while the politics surrounding the issue have changed since the House rejected Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s plan for three resort-style casinos on a 106-48 vote seventeen months ago, the arguments for and against remain largely the same.

Expanded gambling proponents are arguing casinos and slot parlors would provide much-needed jobs and create a lifeline of new state revenues, on the very day the governor is expected to announce up to $600 million in new cuts in state jobs and services to cope with collapsing tax revenues.

Meanwhile opponents who succeeded in blocking the governor’s proposal last spring are facing renewed support for expanded gambling among some lawmakers, who say they are not bound by their previous votes against casinos, in light of the changed economic conditions.

“It’s a whole new issue,” said state Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, of gambling proposals in light of the recession. Mr. Pedone, who voted against the governor’s casino plan last year said he is now leaning toward support of expanded gambling.

“There are members vehemently opposed and members who believe it will be the silver bullet to save the economy,” Mr. Pedone said. “I fall in the middle. I am not philosophically opposed to gambling, but I am under no illusion that it is going to fix our deficits.”

Still approval in the House for expanded gambling would require more than 30 members to change their position against casinos this time around.

Unlike the 2008 push for casinos, the governor while still open to resort casino legislation is not backing any legislation. Another difference is that House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, is openly backing slot parlors and is not opposed to casinos. Two years ago it was Mr. DiMasi who led opposition to the governor’s plan and brought more than 100 votes along with him to kill the proposal.

Meanwhile some lawmakers from Western and Southeastern Massachusetts are organizing voting blocs to support casinos only if the bill ensures one in their area, and developers are promoting plans for casinos in Milford and Palmer, and in Boston owners of Suffolk Downs still have hopes for a casino there.

Mr. Pedone said, however, there are many complications still. He said one problem with the governor’s proposal is prediction of tens of thousands of jobs and large new revenues for the state were seen by many lawmakers as exaggerated.

He said he expects new legislation, possibly building on an initial bill to be filed by Mr. DeLeo at the beginning of the year, will have more realistic job and revenue estimates and is expected to attach timelines for construction and openings lacking in last year’s bill.

Another complication, he said, is whether Native American Indian tribes, such as the Wampanoags who have planned a casino in Middleboro under federal Indian gambling rules, would open a casino on its own with no revenues coming to the state, once the Legislature approves either slot parlors or casinos.

“I think it’s important to bring the American Indian community into this discussion because if we do move forward with a casino bill, they can also move forward independent of the commonwealth,” he said.

Opposition groups who have organized a rally in advance of the hearing tomorrow in front of the Statehouse will also offer testimony against expanded gambling at the 10 a.m. hearing of the Joint Committee on Emerging Technology and Economic Development.

State Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, one of the strongest legislative opponents, still at a rehab center recovering from broken bones from a recent fall after a stroke at home, penned a detailed criticism that will be submitted to the committee at its hearing.

“I oppose expanding gambling in Massachusetts with every bone in my body,” Mr. Eldridge said, because he argues it will hurt small businesses, local and state budgets, and “tens of thousands of Massachusetts families.” Mr. Eldridge said more gambling options would create more problem gamblers, increase foreclosures and bankruptcies, increase domestic violence, child neglect, suicide rates and “general social misery.”

“I cannot think of a more cynical approach to raising revenue or creating jobs,” he said. He argues that lottery revenues will take a hit of 10 percent or more, and that so-called new revenues will be sucked out of other economic enterprises in the state. He also said gambling revenues will be offset by many hidden costs, including the social costs of addiction, and higher police and social services expenses.

Moreover, he cited studies that show most money taken in by casinos will be transferred to out of state owners, reducing community reinvestment.

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