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Casino Gambling Bill Passes, Construction Workers Wait

Supporters say casino gambling will create 10,000 jobs for waiting construction workers. (jasonandrewlayne/Flickr)

Supporters say casino gambling will create 10,000 jobs for waiting construction workers. (jasonandrewlayne/Flickr)

BOSTON — Casino gambling has cleared one of its last hurdles in Massachusetts. As the state Senate voted Thursday to legalize casinos, the argument heard over and over in favor was job creation. Supporters say 10,000 construction workers will be needed to build three resort-style casinos. And that sounds great to Dan D’Alma, an electrician from Springfield.

“Right now,” D’Alma said, “couldn’t come at a better time, you know?”

D’Alma, an officer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 7, said the building trades are hurting.

“There’s a lot of our members, who,” D’Alma said, pausing, “[to] be honest with you, whose houses have been in foreclosure. It’s hard to make ends meet, and these are the worst times I’ve ever seen.”

But legalizing casino gambling isn’t going to give jobs to D’Alma’s fellow union members right away. The jobs that come first are not for hard-hit electricians and stonemasons and carpenters. Instead, the first jobs go to “architects, engineers, attorneys, people to help us with branding and presentations,” said Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, the East Boston horse racetrack with designs on a casino.

But first, it needs to win a state license. And that, Tuttle said, means assembling a mammoth proposal over the next year.

“If we’re going to invest $5 million in bringing development plans to life as part of a license application process, that’s literally hundreds of jobs,” Tuttle said.

Multiply that by eight or 10 to reflect other proposals coming in from other developers for a sense of the initial jobs impact. There will also be a ripple effect in communities where there are proposals.

Richard Lafrance runs the Westport hotel and restaurant company Lafrance Hospitality. He says things like businesspeople coming through for meetings, and rallies to get local support, will create economic activity.

“It will certainly add a job or two in the small limited-service hotels such as we have in the City of New Bedford,” Lafrance said of the city where two development proposals are under way.

The irony is that many of the jobs initially created by the Massachusetts casino legislation will not be in New Bedford but in Nevada instead. That’s because much of the expertise in building and marketing casinos is not here in the Bay State.

“We’re trying to do as much business locally as possible,” Tuttle said. “So while you may not have a local architectural firm that’s done a ton of gaming work, we certainly do plan to involve local people as part of this.”

In the meantime, Massachusetts construction workers hoping to get to work will have to do what they’ve been doing through the long, drawn-out casino debate: sit and wait.

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