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Pros & Cons at Casino Hearing

What do "Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets" have to do with a proposal for casinos in Massachusetts? Not much, say opponents of Governor Deval Patrick's plan for expanded gambling.

But the legislative committee by that name set the stage yesterday for the Governor to push his three-casino vision, for the first time since he unveiled it in October.

WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness was at the State House hearing and has this report.

Audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site later today.TEXT OF STORY:

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS:It was standing room only in a statehouse auditorium built for 300. About half were wearing red t-shirts with union slogans: Casinos plus unions equal good jobs. Men in suits slapped backs, government functionaries carried big charts, and casino moguls wandered in and out with their bodyguards and handlers.

Governor Deval Patrick started the hearing by painting a grim picture of the economy. He said the three casinos he's proposed will add at least $400 million to the state's coffers annually and will create 20,000 permanent jobs.

Then Patrick he pre-empted any talk about gambling hurting poor people.

DEVAL PATRICK: My late mother used to ask me to take her to Foxwoods. And if she were alive she would be like many of the other seniors I meet and other adults I meet from all across the state who tell me, "thank you very much, but they have been making decisions for a very long while and they do not need the state to tell them how they should or shouldn't spend their entertainment dollars".

TONESS: Besides, he said, Massachusetts residents already spend as much as $1.1 billion each year in Connecticut casinos. So if Bay State residents are going to gamble, the governor added, their home state might as well benefit from it.

Many of the speakers characterized slot machines and black jack as inevitable in a state with a relatively robust lottery, horse and dog racing. And others, such as Bridgewater Representative David Flynn, made the decision sound urgent.

Flynn hosted the hearing even though the committee he chairs has no jurisdiction on the issue. It should also be noted that the representative in charge of the appropriate committee has no plans to consider the governor's proposal. And the Speaker of the House, Sal Dimasi opposes the legislation.

Still, Flynn pushed for the hearing.

DAVID FLYNN: it should be obvious to a casual observer that I'm trying in a straightforward way to undermine the Speaker of the House Sal Dimasi a little bit. It's no secret I'm trying to force him to move up the agenda by at least one year hoping it will save several million dollars.TONESS: Flynn also said he's never been to a casino in his life.

That irked Senator Susan Tucker, who said anyone who enters a casino realizes it's a tax on the poor.

Tucker also warned that it's almost impossible to make transparent deals with casino developers.

SUSAN TUCKER: The lobbyists for casinos own Washington. And they will own Massachusetts. It will change the political culture in this state as it has in every state.

TONESS: Tucker wasn't the only skeptic at the hearing.

Outside the auditorium, multi-billionaire casino developer Sheldon Adelson waited for his turn to testify. Standing by a squeaky door, he told reporters he may not bid on a license if there will be more than two casinos in the state.SHELDON ADELSON: If you put in three, three is too many. Because you'll never cut off that flow of money to Connecticut unless you build something equal to or better in Massachusetts.
And the more casinos you build the more dilution there is.

TONESS: Adelson — who grew up in Dorchester and is considered the country's third richest man — has shown interest in building a casino in Marlborough, but he says he hasn't analyzed the economics of a deal.

ADELSON: The way I hear the conditions I hear the legislators talk about what the state is going to get. I didn't hear a word about what the developer is going to get. If I invest a few billion dollars I'm supposed to get some kind of return on that.

TONESS: Adelson hesitated to estimate potential revenues from casinos in Massachusetts. He said the state needs to ask someone independent, someone without a stake in it.

This program aired on December 19, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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