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Mass. Senate Pledges Hearing On Any Casino Bill

Senate President Therese Murray is promising a public hearing on any casino bill before a vote is taken in the Senate, but says she remains skeptical about a House-approved plan to put slot machines at racetracks.

Murray spoke to reporters a day after the Massachusetts House, led by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, overwhelmingly backed a bill to license two resort-style casinos and allow 3,000 slot machines spread across the state's two dog tracks and two horse tracks.

The Plymouth Democrat on Thursday said she wants to create as many jobs as possible. Supporters of casinos say they will create more construction and permanent jobs than racetrack slots.

"I want to go where the jobs are," she said. "I want (to go) where the permanent jobs are, and where the money is."

Murray said she hasn't nixed the idea of racetrack slots and said it would be up to the individual members of the Senate to come to a consensus on a bill.

"We'll do our due diligence but we have some additional questions we need to have answered before we put our bill together," she said.

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, Murray's point man on the casino issue in the Senate, said senators will start from scratch and draft their own bill based on what members want.

He said some senators approve of racetrack slots, some are against it and still others oppose any expansion of gambling.

Murray said the Senate will take its time. She said she doesn't expect a debate on the bill until after the Senate releases its version of the new state budget later in the spring.

Gov. Deval Patrick called the House bill "a great start" but reiterated Thursday that he opposes racetrack slots. Patrick fears allowing slots at the tracks could dilute interest in the licenses for the casinos.

"The House and I agree on the limited addition of the destination resort casinos. We don't agree on slots at the tracks," Patrick told reporters. "I just haven't seen anything yet to change my view on that, but I promised the speaker I would keep an open mind."

The comments come a day after House lawmakers approved a bill to license two casinos and allow race track slots, bringing Massachusetts a step closer to the largest expansion of gambling since the state lottery was created in 1971.

The 120-37 vote marks a dramatic shift in the House, which two years ago voted 106-48 against a similar bill sponsored by Patrick to license three destination casinos. Dozens of lawmakers switched their vote to support DeLeo's bill.

The vote was a major victory for DeLeo, D-Winthrop, who persuaded enough House lawmakers to back the measure to withstand a potential veto by Patrick, who opposes racetrack slots. The governor has not said if he would veto the bill.

DeLeo was criticized for not holding a separate public hearing on his bill before sending it to the House for a vote.

Supporters say the bill would produce a major economic jolt because it would allow the state to recapture up to half the money Massachusetts residents currently spend at casinos elsewhere. They say that translates into between $300 million and $500 million in added tax revenues each year and up to 19,000 new jobs.

Opponents say the promise of a revenue windfall and thousands of good-paying jobs is overblown. They faulted House leaders for failing to consider the social costs they associate with casinos, including gambling addiction, broken homes, domestic violence and bankruptcies.

This program aired on April 16, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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