BOSTON – Few MetroWest lawmakers are embracing House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s latest gambling proposal, which calls for two resort casinos as well as slot machines at the state’s four race tracks.
Ten area legislators contacted after DeLeo’s announcement Thursday said they are concerned about gambling’s impact on small businesses and are skeptical about the money supporters claim casinos will bring.
“It’s an economic issue for me, and I’m not sure that the money and the jobs that have been promised are actually there,” said state Rep. Danielle Gregoire, a first-term Democrat from Marlborough, who worries a resort casino would jeopardize business for the many hotels in Marlborough.
DeLeo reignited the state’s gaming debate with a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
“I have cautioned before and I will caution again: Gaming is not a panacea,” DeLeo told the business leaders. “But it is a plan that creates a new economic sector and new jobs in Massachusetts when we need them most.”
Gov. Deval Patrick said his opposition to slots was similarly rooted in his interest in job growth.
“The concern is this: that we’ll get the slots and we won’t get the casinos – and we need the jobs. The jobs come with the casinos,” he said.
Asked if slots were a deal breaker, the governor added, “As it stands now, yes.”
Slots also worry state Rep. John Fernandes, whose Milford district has been proposed as a possible site for a resort casino.
Fernandes said he opposed Patrick’s 2008 proposal for three casinos because it did too much too soon. Now he is worried DeLeo’s proposed “racinos” would steal business from a Milford casino.
“There’s nothing you can do with a casino if it fails,” Fernandes said.
DeLeo aimed to soften expected opposition, saying the bill will propose using a portion of anticipated licensing fees to support existing manufacturers and lure new ones to Massachusetts. He said a fund would assist them with capital improvements, though he did not give specifics.
He also pledged to use some of the fees to enhance partnerships between community colleges, vocational schools and various industries.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said he opposes expanding gambling, especially slot machines, which he called “lowest common denominator gambling.”
Eldridge said casinos hurt local businesses, do not generate revenue and instigate social problems, crime and home foreclosures.
“It’s going to hurt small businesses and cause job losses, which seems to be the opposite intent of this proposal,” Eldridge said.
Rep. Alice Peisch said her biggest concern is whether expanded gambling will actually bring more money to Massachusetts.
“I’m skeptical that the benefits of any gambling proposal would outweigh the cost, but I’m willing to be persuaded,” said Peisch, D-Wellesley.
Peisch said she has heard various opinions from her constituents, and many share her need for specifics.
Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, said she was disappointed with DeLeo’s proposal, especially when it came to slots.
“We’re going to rebuild the Massachusetts economy by exploiting a very serious illness and profiting off of it,” she said.
Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, said she won’t support a casino bill unless it stipulates that the revenue will go to schools and the sales tax increase is repealed.
In bad economic times, it’s important that the bill be drafted carefully, she said.
“We can’t afford to put a big bet on gambling and find out later we bet on the wrong formula,” Fargo said.
Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, as well as Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, also said they are waiting to see research on how a casino might aid the state.
Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, said the magnitude of DeLeo’s proposal strengthened her opposition to gambling because of the social ills and addiction problems it brings.
“The social problems will be compounded by the number of these facilities,” Creem said.
“It’s not the cure-all for our economic ills right now, there’s a lot to be debated still,” said Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, whose district includes Upton.
Massachusetts already allows gambling through its lottery games and live racing. But lottery revenue – whose proceeds are a vital source of cash for cities and towns – have fallen in the recession. The state’s two horse racing and two former greyhound tracks, both of which now offer only simulcast racing following a ban on dog racing, also have suffered.
MetroWest Daily News