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Slots supporters press on
despite House’s no votes

Turn attention to passage in Senate,
where leaders are seen sympathetic

By TOM BENNER ~ Patriot Ledger State House Bureau - 4-16-03

BOSTON

upporters of legalized gambling in Massachusetts are now looking to the state Senate as the final chance to keep alive the idea of legalizing slot machines to help alleviate the state’s budget crunch.

Another push from Gov. Mitt Romney would help, too, they said.

Two bills to allow what would essentially be slot-machine parlors in Massachusetts were defeated yesterday in the House.

Speaker Thomas M. Finneran led the opposition in the House, but Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, with two of the state’s four tracks in his district, has expressed support for expanded gambling as legislators seek to close a $3-billion budget gap.

“As far as the Senate is concerned, everything is still on the table and we’ll be reviewing all proposals,” Sen. Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, the Senate’s top budget writer, said yesterday.

Romney has also come out in favor of expanding gambling, proposing between three and five video slot facilities around the state on a five-year trial basis. He estimates they would raise $144 million next year and more than $300 million annually in following years for a total of $1.6 billion over five years.

“If people see how dead the budget is, maybe it will be reinvigorated,” said Sen. Michael W. Morrissey, D-Quincy, whose Government Regulations Committee acts a gatekeeper for gaming-related legislation. “If they see they might get $200 million or $300 million, they may want to consider it.”

Morrissey is preparing a bill calling for slots and at least one-full fledged casino, which he said he’ll introduce if enough senators support it. He insists that by allowing “racinos,” or race tracks with slots parlors, the state is opening the door to a full-fledged Las Vegas-style casino.

“It’s basically an all-or-nothing proposition,” he said. “Once you decide to put slots in the commonwealth, you have to deal with the Indian gaming issue. That means some kind of casino. You just can’t do so-called racinos.”

The state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe, the Wampanoags of Gay Head, shrugged off yesterday’s House defeat of the slot proposals.

“It has done nothing to dampen our optimism or our commitment to press forward and pursue our rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” said tribal Chairwoman Beverly Wright.

The House defeated two proposals, one to allow 1,500 slot machines at each of the state’s four race tracks, and a second bill that would allow 9,000 slots at the four tracks and two other locations.

“I don’t think this ends the debate,” said Rep. Garrett J. Bradley, D-Hingham, who voted for both proposals. “It’s a step back, but I think the Senate has plans of its owns.”

Bradley rejected arguments that allowing slots at the race tracks is a giveaway to the racing industry. He said the tracks are best suited to quickly become racinos.

“It’s established gambling in certain areas where it’s not a new venture, so the new revenue would be received far quicker than if you were starting from scratch,” Bradley said.

In addition to Bradley, South Shore House members who voted to allow slots were Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy, David Flynn, D-Bridgewater, William C. Galvin, D-Canton, Susan W. Gifford, R-Wareham, Robert Nyman, D-Hanover, Walter Timilty, D-Milton, and Daniel Webster, R-Hanson.

“We ought to have casino gambling because our tax dollars are flowing out the door to Connecticut,” Webster said. “Whether we’re in a budget crisis or not, we ought to be taking advantage of those dollars here in Massachusetts.”

Gifford said expanded gambling is preferable to raising taxes in order to balance the state’s books.

“The Legislature has missed an opportunity to really capitalize on money that’s being spent by Massachusetts residents in other states,” she said.

South Shore House members who voted along with House Speaker Finneran against the slots proposals were Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, Frank Hynes, D-Marshfield, Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, James Murphy, D-Weymouth, Thomas O’Brien, D-Kingston, Kathleen Teahan, D-Whitman, and Stephen Tobin, D-Quincy.

Rep. Louis L. Kafka, D-Sharon, voted against allowing six slots parlors, but for racinos.

Tobin, a member of Finneran’s leadership team, said expanded gaming will bring negatives that may equal any increased revenues to the state.

“The open questions are what’s the impact on the Lottery, and balanced with the projected social costs, I just think it’s a wash at best,” Tobin said.

Joseph C. Sullivan, director of the Braintree-based state Lottery, praised the House vote. He said slots parlors would eat into Lottery revenues, which generate millions of dollars in state aid to cities and towns.

“If you establish new entertainment venues, it will have an impact upon the revenue flow that’s currently in place with the Lottery,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and state Treasurer Tim Cahill, who oversees Lottery operations, believes an advertising budget to publicize large jackpots will help increase Lottery sales.

“We believe that we can not only position the Lottery for growth, but there are some great opportunities for that expansion over the next couple of years within the Lottery,” Sullivan said.

Tom Benner may be reached at tbenner@ledger.com

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