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Mass. Lawmakers Put Off Casino Debate Until Sept.

By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
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File Image (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)

File Image (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ top legislative leaders announced Wednesday they are putting off any casino gambling debate until after Labor Day in September.

Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo released a joint statement, saying lawmakers need more time to craft a bill and the public will need time to analyze the proposal and offer comment before it can be voted on.

DeLeo had earlier said he hoped to get a bill to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk by the end of July.

The two Democrats pointed to other top bills making their way through the Legislature, including an overhaul of the state’s courts and a bill making human trafficking a crime in Massachusetts.

“Recognizing the importance of creating jobs and growing revenue in Massachusetts, gaming legislation has also been the subject of discussion among the governor, senate president and speaker,” DeLeo and Murray said in their statement. “To allow for public analysis and a full debate, both branches plan to debate gaming legislation in September after Labor Day.”

In the meantime, the Joint Committee on Economic Development will continue to review different gaming proposals, they said.

Earlier in the week, Patrick had expressed doubts about reaching an agreement on a casino bill before the Legislature breaks for its summer recess at the end of July, given the thorny history of the gambling debate in Massachusetts.

“There has to be a full and open debate in both the House and Senate,” Patrick told reporters on Monday. “We may not be able to finish our part of this work in enough time to allow that full debate” before the end of July.

Casino opponent Kathleen Norbut said lawmakers should take the opportunity to commission an independent analysis about the pros and cons of casino gambling before voting on any measure.

“This looks like a good time for the Legislature to prove they are serious about transparency, accountability and their fiduciary responsibilities by conducting an independent cost analysis,” said Norbut of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts.

On the final day of the Legislature’s formal session last July, lawmakers passed a bill calling for three casinos and two slot parlors, to be bid on by the state’s four racetracks. Two of the tracks were in DeLeo’s district — Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere and Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. Wonderland has since closed.

Patrick rejected the racetrack slots, saying the contracts should be open to all qualified bidders. He sent a bill back to lawmakers with just three casino licenses, but lawmakers never acted on it.

Supporters of casino gambling are hoping to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

Patrick has said he hopes to work out the broad outlines of an acceptable bill with lawmakers before they begin debate.

Critics of casino gambling, who say that the promised benefits of extra jobs and revenue are vastly overstated, are hoping that lingering divisions will again doom the bill.

Despite their differences, however, the governor, Murray and DeLeo say they support some kind of expanded gambling in Massachusetts. That’s a marked difference in the debate when previous speaker, Democrat Salvatore DiMasi, adamantly opposed casino gaming. DiMasi resigned in January, 2009. He was convicted of federal corruption charges last month.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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