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Mass. Senate Approves Casino Gambling Bill

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(File photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(File photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS/AP) — State senators have approved a bill that would allow the state to license up to three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in Massachusetts.

The 24-14 vote in the Senate followed by five days of debate spread over the last three weeks. Senators approved dozens of amendments to the House-passed bill, while rejecting more than 100 others.

Senate President Therese Murray says, “It’s an economic development bill. It’s going to create jobs. We have over 250,000 people out of work in the Commonwealth and that’s why we’re doing this bill.”

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports

Senator Stanley Rosenberg says $1.2 billion is spent on gaming in other states, and this will help bring that money back to Massachusetts. Rosenberg says, “Those who don’t want it, there is no good answer. The majority of people want this and this is a good answer.”

Speaker Robert DeLeo says he his optimistic the Conference Committee will work out a deal before the November 16th break. “I think we’re ahead of the game,” he told us tonight. “I think it’s important if we want to get this going we try to get it done as quickly as possible. Hopefully before we break for the holidays.”

Opponents of the plan say they will continue to fight for their causes.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz says, “I continue to believe this is the wrong direction for Massachusetts to go in. Fundamentally bringing casinos to Massachusetts in order to close our budget gap is a tax on the poor. It’s another way of taxing poor and working class families in Massachusetts.”

Senator Pat Jehlen says, “I don’t think it’s a good move for the Commonwealth. I think it’s a risky decision. People are glad to have it in someone else’s backyard, not so much in theirs.”

To those concerned about the scope and size of the bill, Senate President Murray says, “This isn’t going to be jammed into any community. A community has to vote to accept.”

Differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill must still be worked out before it can be sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature.

In the Senate, a lawmaker would have to wait a year before going to work in the casino industry. In the House, there is no cooling off period. Senator Stanley Rosenberg says if passed, this would be the first time in state law a cooling off period limited lawmakers from going to the private sector. Rosenberg says, “The public seems to embrace the idea of a cooling off period and the Senate embraced the existing standard which is one year.”

Another difference: The so called Happy Hour provision, which would allow restaurants across the state to serve discounted or free drinks, not just casinos. That amendment was passed in the Senate, but insiders say it may not hold up in the Conference Committee.

“I’m getting some opinions on that,” Speaker DeLeo tells us. “Already I’ve had some folks in the restaurant association reach out and talk about the importance of it, I’ve heard from some folks who are concerned that we could expand upon alcohol issues that could occur, so I’m going to wait for a little more information on that.”

Other differences include the voting in large cities. In the Senate version, Boston and Worcester would have only neighborhood votes to approve a casino, unless the City Council voted for a full citywide vote. In the House version, Boston, Worcester and Springfield all would have neighborhood only votes for approval.

To avoid corruption, Senator Rosenberg says, “Every single employee of a casino, every single employee of a vendor who steps foot into a casino, every staff person at the Gaming Control Commission will go through a full investigation of their background. Not only before they are hired or given a contract, but also every day to make sure there is no change in their status with regard to connection to criminal activity.”

Rosenberg believes the Commission will also add additional stringent requirements. He says, “Probably prohibiting a spouse of the Gaming Control Commissioner from even stepping foot into a casino, for example.”

Governor Patrick blocked the Casino bill from becoming law last year because he felt there were too many slot parlors, and because they wouldn’t be competitively bid upon. This time, House and Senate Leaders met with the Governor to agree on a framework.

He says he will wait to see the final version, but indicated a show of support tonight.

Governor Patrick says,“I know there are people who feel very strongly on the other side of the question, but on balance, I think there is a way to do this that is good for the jobs perspective and good for revenue. Not the solve to all of our challenges but an economic development opportunity and this bill seems to do that.”

How did the Senate vote?

Yes No
Steven Baddour (D) Sonia Chang-Diaz (D)
Frederick Berry (D) Cynthia Creem (D)
Stephen Brewer (D) Kenneth Donnelly (D)
Gale Candaras (D) Benjamin Downing (D)
Harriett Chandler (D) James Eldridge (D)
Katherine Clark (D) Susan Fargo (D)
Sal DiDomenico (D) Barry Finegold (D)
Eileen Donoghue (D) Patricia Jehlen (D)
Jennifer Flanagan (D) John Keenan (D)
John Hart (D) Mark Montigny (D)
Brian Joyce (D) Richard Moore (D)
Thomas Kennedy (D) Michael Rodrigues (D)
Michael Knapik (R) Karen Spilka (D)
Thomas McGee (D) Daniel Wolf (D)
Michael Moore (D)
Therese Murray (D)
Marc Pacheco (D)
Anthony Petruccelli (D)
Stanley Rosenberg (D)
Richard Ross (R)
Bruce Tarr (R)
James Timilty (D)
Steven Tolman (D)
James Welch (D)

*Sen. Michael Rush (D) and Sen. Robert Hedlund (R) did not vote. Hedlund is a part owner of a restaurant and Democrats said he had a conflict of interest with one of the amendments.

The bill would authorize one casino to be located in eastern Massachusetts, one in western Massachusetts and one in the southeastern part of the state.

Bids for the resort casinos would start at $85 million and one of the three licenses must be awarded to a federally-recognized Indian tribe.

WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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