WBUR

Initial Advance For Gambling Proposal In House

BOSTON — House lawmakers on Tuesday — during 11 hours of debate — barely altered Speaker Robert DeLeo’s gambling legislation as they considered a larger number of the more than 200 proposed amendments.

The speaker’s plan would bring two resort casinos to Massachusetts and allow slot machines at the state’s four existing race tracks.

One approved change Tuesday is the creation of a voluntary self-exclusion list for problem gamblers who do not want to be targeted by casino marketing.

Earlier in the day’s debate, the House rejected an amendment that would have required that the odds of winning be posted next to every casino game.

On Monday, Newton state Rep. Ruth Balser, who sponsored the amendment, said warnings are commonplace with risky products and diversions.

“If you buy a bottle of wine, there’s a warning from the surgeon general on it about drinking and using equipment, drinking and being pregnant,” Balser said.

Another rejected amendment would have regulated the level of oxygen in casinos. Another would have banned electronic slot machines, allowing only mechanical ones.

Republican Rep. Paul Frost, of Auburn, says he saw through the amendments.

“Some of these may be poison pills,” he said. “If some of these did pass, it would basically kill the bill or not make it possible for a developer to want to come in.”

Another rejected amendment would have required at least one casino to be located in the western portion of the state.

Republican Rep. Todd Smola, of Palmer, says it is not fair that the bill targets expanded gambling to existing race tracks.

“If we are indeed going to pass the legislation that is before us to allow slots at the race tracks, we need to have a more level playing field for central and western Massachusetts,” he said.

House lawmakers — by a 102-30 margin — also rejected a call for a public hearing on the bill.

DeLeo has scheduled three days of House debate on the legislation. He is hoping for a two-thirds vote on the bill, or 106 votes, to withstand a potential veto by Gov. Deval Patrick, who opposes slot machines at the race tracks. Patrick has not said whether he would veto the bill.

The bill is expected to fare better than a similar proposal, put forth by Patrick, that the House shot down in 2008.

DeLeo says that’s because these are different times, with the state facing budget deficits and high unemployment numbers. The bill, said DeLeo, can help address those issues. “It’s the first chance that people have in a long time to stake a real stab at joblessness,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo said gambling revenues will shore up funds and projects all over the state. “Help local aid, help education, help the rainy day fund, help manufacturing, you know, just to name a few things that we can provide money.”

But casino opponents say gambling revenues come at the price of dangerous side effects, including crime and compulsive gambling.

WBUR’s Curt Nickisch contributed reporting from the State House.

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