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Legislative leaders meeting on casino bills

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Senate leaders tried Wednesday to break a legislative logjam over a proposed gambling expansion in Massachusetts, offering two options to their House counterparts.

One would allow for two casinos in the state, but none of the racetrack slot machines favored by the House. The other option would place all final decisions about the number of casinos, slots and their location in the hands of an independent gaming commission, said two Statehouse officials briefed on the proposal.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing.

Legislative leaders met for about 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office after aides to Senate President Therese Murray delivered their proposal.

Heading into the meeting, Murray declined to confirm the details but said she wanted to get a deal finished before the Legislature concludes its formal sessions for the year. They are slated to end at midnight Saturday.

Emerging from the meeting, Senate leaders said they were continuing to work on a solution, with Murray saying, “We’re going to keep at it until we can somehow get to `yes.”‘

Both sides agree on adding casinos, although the Senate has approved two and the House three. But DeLeo favors allowing slot machines at the state’s four racetracks, an idea opposed by Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Murray has publicly remained steadfast on that point, but Patrick appeared to hedge Wednesday.

Asked if he would sign a bill allowing slot machines, the governor replied, `That’s not my first choice.” Asked if he would sign a bill allowing one slot parlor as a compromise, he said, “I don’t have that bill yet, but that’s not my first choice and they know that.”

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos said his chamber offered the two options to spur a decision by the end of the day.

“One of them embraces common ground and the other allows the decision to be made in a different forum,” Panagiotakos said of the options.

He said House and Senate leaders need to get a final compromise on the broad outlines of the bill Wednesday night, so their aides have time to write and file the bill’s final language by an 8 p.m. Friday parliamentary deadline, Panagiotakos said.

That timetable would also allow lawmakers to debate and pass the bill Saturday, the last day of the formal session, although it would not give them time to overturn any vetoes Patrick might make to the legislation.

Both bills agree on the creation of a five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee the casinos, although they differ slightly on how the members of that board would be appointed.

Under the Senate bill, the governor would get to appoint three of the commissioners, including the chairman, while the attorney general and state treasurer would each appoint one.

The House bill would also create a five-member board with each member approved by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and state treasurer.

Supporters of casinos say expanded gambling in Massachusetts will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in added revenue each year while creating up to 15,000 jobs.

Critics say casinos will end up costing the state in social ills, including compulsive gambling, increased crime and divorce while also putting pressure on existing industries including performing arts theaters and other cultural venues.

The state already allows lottery games, horse racing and simulcasting of out-of-state horse and dog races.

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