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Casino Industry Spent Millions Lobbying In Mass.

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
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(File photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(File photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (AP) — When Beacon Hill lawmakers finally adopted a bill to legalize casino gambling, it wasn’t just a victory for would-be high rollers or Massachusetts’ cash-strapped cities and towns.

It was also a long-awaited — and pricey — win for a casino industry that had longed hoped for a toehold in the state.

To press its case at the Statehouse and win over wavering lawmakers, the industry hired a small army of lobbyists who, year after year, steadily made the argument for expanded gambling in Massachusetts.

In just the past five years, the tally for all that lobbying topped $11.4 million, according to a review of state lobbying records by The Associated Press.

Overall spending on lobbying steadily increased year after year as the pressure built to approve a bill.

In 2007, the total lobbying tab on the casino issue was nearly $1.3 million. By 2011, that grew to more than $3.1 million.

Many of the companies that lobbied hardest for the expanded gambling law are now actively pursuing the three casino licenses created by the legislation.

The company that easily spent the most on lobbying was Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack and is hoping to turn the East Boston facility into a destination casino.

From 2007 to 2011, the track spent more than $2.8 million on lobbying, according to the AP review.

Another big spender was the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which also is hoping to win one of the three casino licenses. During the past five years, the tribe spent nearly $850,000 on lobbying expenses.

The law gives federally recognized tribes like the Mashpee Wampanoags until July 31 to negotiate a gaming compact in the southeast part of the state.

There was plenty of out-of-state lobbying money flowing into Massachusetts.

Development Associates, LLC, a Las Vegas-based subsidiary of casino and hotel developer Steve Wynn, spent more than $863,000 on lobbying in just the past three years.

Wynn is hoping to win one of the licenses. He’s teamed with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to propose a casino in Foxborough.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Doug Cope spoke to Walpole residents

Las Vegas Sands Corporation, another casino company, has spent nearly $473,000 on lobbying during the same time period.

Two other companies hoping to land casino licenses also doled out hefty sums on lobbying.

Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc. spent nearly $197,000 on lobbying during the past five years while Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, which is eyeing a casino for Brimfield, spent $60,000.

The money spent on lobbying went to a range of activities.

Of the $850,600 that Sterling Suffolk Racecourse spent on lobbying just in 2010, about half — or $426,960 — went to pay the salary of lobbyists including seven separate firms and two individuals.

The remaining money — about $423,640 — went to such items printing and public relations consulting to advertising, cellphone bills, bus rentals, hats and T-shirts and the creation of a website to support the casino push.

William Mulrow, chairman of Suffolk Downs Board of Directors, defended the lobbying push, saying the 77-year-old track wants to maintain its legacy “as the state’s premier gaming destination.”

“Suffolk Downs continues to work with community groups, neighbors and others to answer questions and provide information on how a world-class resort casino here would create thousands of jobs, boost the local economy and invest in local transportation improvements,” Mulrow said in a statement.

The road to a casino law wasn’t easy.

Supporters at first found their efforts blocked by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a gambling opponent who was ultimately forced out of office by an unrelated corruption scandal. DiMasi was replaced by a casino supporter and fellow Democrat, House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

For backers of casinos the lowest point may have come in 2010, when DeLeo and Gov. Deval Patrick — both of whom supported casinos — came to loggerheads over the details of a bill in the closing hours of the Legislature’s formal session, nixing a casino deal that year.

That nail-biting defeat came despite a hefty $3 million lobbying push by casino backers that year.

Undaunted, the industry renewed its lobbying drive in 2011, spending more than $3.1 million on lobbyists whose mission it was to sway lawmakers to back casino legislation.

The industry was aided by talks between Patrick, DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray that helped smooth out a final deal before votes were taken in both chambers on a bill to legalize three casinos and a single slots parlor.

Finally, just days before Thanksgiving, Patrick finally signed the bill — the largest single expansion of legalized gambling in Massachusetts since the creation of the state lottery 40 years earlier.

In theory, the industry should be able to ease up on its Beacon Hill lobbying push now that the law has passed.

Lawmakers went to great lengths in the legislation to insulate themselves from any decisions about who gets a casino license.

Those decisions fall exclusively to a yet-unnamed five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The law gives the commission the power not only to choose which casino proposals get the coveted licenses but also to regulate and investigate the new gambling facilities.

The law calls for Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman to each appoint one member to the commission, with Patrick naming the chair. The remaining two members will be chosen jointly by Patrick, Coakley and Grossman.

So far the only Patrick has named his choice for the first chairman of the commission, Stephen Crosby.

Crosby has acknowledged that the panel will be under intense public scrutiny to ensure that each decision they make is in the public’s interest and not due to political pressure.

“Somebody called me and said, ‘I need to talk off the record.’ I said, ‘I can’t talk to you off the record. There is no off the record on this.’” Crosby said during a recent interview with the AP.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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