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House Speaker Robert DeLeo unveiled a plan Thursday to build two resort casinos and allow up to 750 slot machines at each of the state's four existing race tracks.
DeLeo said his bill will raise as much as $1.7 billion a year in additional revenue for the state and create 15,000 jobs.
Under DeLeo's proposal, all the revenue from the racetrack slots, up to $100 million a year, would be returned to cities and towns in the form of local aid. Two of the state's racetracks are located in the Winthrop Democrat's district.
The bill requires a $500 million private investment from each of the resort casinos and $75 million from each of the race tracks and delivers $260 million in upfront licensing fees to the state, he said. The required upfront costs would help "get shovels planted in the ground," DeLeo said.
DeLeo described the proposal as a "jobs bill," which includes temporary construction jobs and permanent jobs in the casinos and race tracks, while creating an entirely new economic sector in the state.
"It's not a cure all. I never said it was a cure all, but we are at a time, as everyone here appreciates, where we have to maximize every single dollar and take advantage of each and every opportunity to grow our economy and that's what this bill does."
DeLeo said the reality is that Massachusetts residents already spend money on gambling at out-of-state casinos and that as Massachusetts Speaker he has an obligation to keep money in the state.
"No matter what anyone's personal attitude toward gambling may be, we can no longer let that revenue escape elsewhere. We need to keep that revenue here," he said.
The bill creates a Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee expanded gambling and to handle casino licensing. It also establishes a Division of Gaming Enforcement within the state Attorney General's Office to enforce criminal violations of gaming laws.
In addition, DeLeo said, the bill targets resources for gaming addiction services.
The bill could run into opposition from Gov. Deval Patrick, who has said he supports resort casinos but opposes allowing slots at racetracks. Patrick has not said he would veto legislation with racetrack slots, however.
"There's a right way and a wrong way to do this and (DeLeo) and I are not yet aligned on the question of having any slots at tracks 'cause we don't think, I don't think, and have seen nothing to suggest we get the jobs in that case," Patrick said to WBUR.
On Wednesday, union workers packed the State House to urge lawmakers to legalize casinos, saying they would bring desperately needed jobs.
But critics say expanding gambling would bring social costs, like gambling addiction. They say the state needs to conduct a better economic analysis of the pros and cons of casinos, and they point to casinos in other states that they claim are struggling.
The lure of casinos has drawn millions in lobbying dollars to Massachusetts. The amount spent by firms, unions and interest groups hoping to influence the debate has grown from just more than $800,000 in 2006 to more than $2 million in 2009, according to an Associated Press review of records filed with the Secretary of State's Office.
The vast majority of the lobbying dollars are being spent by groups hoping to get a piece of the gambling pie if lawmakers ultimately vote to expand gaming.
This program aired on April 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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