Mass. lawmakers vote to bring casino gambling
BOSTON -- Massachusetts is one step closer to bringing gambling to the state after House lawmakers approved a bill licensing casino gambling in the state.
The 123-32 vote Wednesday night followed eight hours of debate on the bill that would spread three resort-style casinos across the state and license one slots parlor. Those gaming halls would bring much needed jobs and tax revenue, proponents say.
"Thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in a point in history for this commonwealth where economic conditions continue to be challenging, to say the least," said Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee, introducing the bill he helped craft.
Under the proposal, the state would take bids starting at $85 million for up to three casino licenses. Those developers must invest at least $500 million into the casino resort, which must include a hotel. Bidding for the slots parlor license would start at $25 million, and developers are required to invest $125 million in the facility. That facility could have no more than 1,250 slots machines.
Lawmakers considered more than 150 amendments to the bill but most were rejected.
The licenses would be issued and approved by a gaming commission established in the bill.
Democrat House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop, a top gaming proponent, has said the casinos and slots parlor will create an estimated 15,000 jobs, including 6,000 construction jobs.
"With people in our Commonwealth hurting, this expanded gaming legislation will bring immediate jobs, local aid and economic growth," DeLeo said in a statement after the bill passed.
Casinos would pay 25 percent tax on daily gaming revenue, while the slots parlors would pay 40 percent tax on gaming revenues.
That tax revenue would be divided across states funds, including 25 percent to local aid for cities and towns, 15 percent for transportation infrastructure and 14 percent for local education aid. Tax revenue would also go to the state's rainy day fund, economic development fund and to debt reduction. Existing programs for people with gambling addictions would also get $5 million in aid.
While proponents focused on the jobs and revenue Massachusetts could reclaim from neighboring states with legalized gaming, critics questioned the number of jobs and amount of revenue the institutions would generate.
"This is the race to the bottom," said Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, opposing the bill.
Balser and other gaming critics note that states that have legalized gaming are still fighting unemployment and budget cuts.
They also say local business in communities hosting the casinos will lose customers.
The casinos will be spread throughout the state, with one in western Massachusetts, one in the Boston area and another in southeastern Massachusetts, and residents of host communities will vote to approve a casino. The city or town would receive additional funds to mitigate the cost of hosting a casino, such as infrastructure maintenance and additional law enforcement.
Even before lawmakers had cast their votes, developers were optimistic communities would support their casino plans.
"We look at this as a great opportunity, but we're going to need to satisfy the needs of the community," said David Nunes, a real estate developer who has already reached exclusivity agreement with the town of Milford to build an $850 million resort casino.
Nunes said he and his partners have a good working relationship with the town's board of selectmen and he is confident the location -- near the intersection of Interstate 495 and the Massachusetts Turnpike -- will attract gamblers from across the state and New England looking for a new gaming venue.
"It gives people a different look and feel" from the casinos in Connecticut and the slot parlor in Rhode Island, he said.
Backers of bringing a casino owned by Mohegan Sun to the western Massachusetts town of Palmer also say they are "cautiously optimistic" the bill will become law and they will be able to build a casino.
"We're way far ahead of everybody and we're going to continue to stay that way," said Robert Young, a spokesman for Palmer Businesses for a Palmer Casino, pointing to Mohegan Sun's reputation and their meetings with town officials that have already laid the groundwork for mitigation.
Although proponents are eager to break ground, the bill still must pass the Senate before moving to Gov. Deval Patrick for approval.
"Hopefully sooner rather than later we'll be able to put a bill on the governor's desk," Wagner told reporters after the bill's passage.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)