THE STATE HOUSE State House leaders are renewing their push to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts. A bill filed Tuesday would allow three resort-style casinos and one so-called video slot parlor. They hope the promise of new revenue and jobs will finally trump in the reoccurring casino debate on Beacon Hill.
“We just can’t leave 16,000 jobs on the table, especially in this type of an economy,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Those jobs would be casino dealers, sales and marketing positions and hotel and restaurant workers at up to three casinos. There would be one in western Massachusetts, one in southeastern Massachusetts and one in a region that includes the North Shore, Worcester and Boston.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Greg Bialecki, said the idea is to add jobs across the state — jobs the state does not have to entice companies to create.
“Here’s a business where there’s demonstrated demand and the participants are saying, ‘You don’t have to provide us with any subsidies, just create the opportunity, set the rules and we will gladly come to Massachusetts and create jobs,’ ” Bialecki said.
This latest casino bill is almost the same as the one that died last year. The main difference is that Patrick and DeLeo reached a compromise in advance this time. The deal allows one additional gambling facility, likely a racetrack, with video slot machines.
The four facilities are expected to bring the state roughly $300 million in licensing fees and an estimated $300 to $500 million in new gambling tax revenue. Supporters say the slot parlor could be up and running by late next year.
DeLeo said it’s time to recapture money Massachusetts residents spend at Foxwoods and other area casinos.
“Right now we have a problem where people in Massachusetts are spending over $1 billion of their money they earn here out of state, but they’re coming back to Massachusetts with the problem that they have with gambling addiction,” DeLeo said.
The bill spells out how all casino money would be distributed. Five percent, for example, would go to problem gambling programs. Fifteen percent would go to transportation projects and 25 percent to cities and towns.
If casinos cut into Lottery revenue, of which cities and towns get a share, then municipalities may not be much better off.
“It’s important in the debate that the merits of this proposal are considered and not viewed as some revenue bonanza and an answer to our state’s fiscal problems,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
Debate on this latest casino bill is expected soon after Labor Day. Release of the bill Tuesday took all but a handful of leaders by surprise.
“There’s concern among the public about a deal that’s cut between the leadership in the middle of August when lots of folks are on vacation and not paying attention,” said Rev. Laura Everett, associate director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
Casino opponents argue that the jobs and revenue estimates are old, underestimate the costs of gambling related problems and don’t take into account the recession or growing competition in the casino market. Opponents worry that this deal, negotiated behind closed doors between the three State House leaders, will be rushed through with little debate.
“This is a huge step in a new direction for Massachusetts,” Everett said. “If that’s the direction we’re going, then we would want the full faith and the numbers to back up that this is not just false promise or fool’s gold for Massachusetts.”
The Senate’s point person on expanded gambling, Sen. Stan Rosenberg, took a deep breath and responded to the familiar criticism.
“This issue has been debated in Massachusetts for almost two decades,” Rosenberg said. “Most of these issues have been debated ad nauseam and the debate will continue.”
The bill would establish a Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee expanded gambling and would create a gaming enforcement unit in the attorney general’s office. Rosenberg said the bill includes the strictest regulation in the country to combat gambling corruption.
If the bill passes, casino supporters expect stiff competition for the licenses. The Mashpee Wampanoags would have the first shot at the southeast region license if they can negotiate a deal that balances their sovereign rights with the state’s interests by July 2012.