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Mass. Senate Launches Casino Gambling Debate

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate has ended its first day of debate on a contentious casino gambling bill, but an actual vote may not happen until next week.

Senators were able to make their way through 60 of 182 proposed amendments to the bill, which would allow three resort-style casinos and one slot parlor.

One of the amendments approved would require gaming license applicants to check the immigration status of all employees and contractor employees through the Department of Homeland Security.

Senators also backed an amendment prohibiting councils on aging from using state funds to sponsor trips to out-of-state casinos once new gambling facilities are established in Massachusetts.

Debate comes as a new poll suggests the gambling plan has the backing of a majority of state residents.

The poll by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth concludes that 56 percent of residents support the casino legislation, compared to 36 percent who oppose and 13 percent undecided.

“Over the last four years, it doesn’t matter how you ask the question, or what configuration of facilities you put forward, the support level remains, really, in the high 50 percents,” said Clyde Barrow, director of UMass Dartmouth’s Center for Policy Analysis.

Sixty-one percent of people surveyed say they believe expanded gambling would increase tourism. Fifty-one percent say it would increase gambling addiction.

Casino backers say gambling halls will create 15,000 jobs and bring $300 million to $600 million in tax revenue to the state every year.

“And it also helps to bring home the players who are currently spending about $1.2 billion in surrounding states,” said Sen. Stan Rosenberg, of Amherst.

Critics have questioned the strength of the economic boost casinos are said to bring. They say social and economic costs, such as gambling addiction, outweigh any potential benefits.

“This is not going to be what we think it’s going to be, and then if we have 15 casinos and slot parlors in a 15-mile radius, I don’t see the numbers being there,” said Sen. Barry Finegold, of Lawrence.

The House overwhelmingly approved a casino bill earlier this month.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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