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Murray: Mass. Senate Casino Plan Still In Flux

The details of the Senate's sweeping casino bill are still in flux and won't be finalized until after a public hearing next week, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray said Thursday.

A draft of the bill released Thursday describes the broad outlines of the Senate proposal, which would allow three resort-style casinos while keeping a ban on slot machines at the state's four racetracks.

Two of the casino licenses would be competitively bid. The third would go to a qualified Indian tribe.

"It's not done yet. This is just an outline that will go to a hearing and then the full bill will be fleshed out after the hearing," Murray told reporters.

The Senate plan differs from a bill approved by the Massachusetts House that would allow two resort-style casinos and 750 slot machines at each of the racetracks.

Murray said the draft version of the Senate bill favors full resort-style casinos over racetracks slots because casinos would create a bigger boost in revenues for the state by creating a bidding war for the licenses.

"We want an open competitive process so people will bid on whatever licenses are available," Murray said.

Murray, who met with fellow Democratic Senate members in a closed-door caucus inside her office to discuss the proposal, offered no predictions about what form a final bill might take before reaching Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, given the differences in the House and Senate plans.

"We'll see what happens," said Murray, D-Plymouth. "I'm leaving it to the members."
Murray did not take a poll of members in the caucus, but some senators expressed opposition.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said he opposes the decision not to include racetrack slots in the draft version of the bill, saying it will lead to the loss of hundreds of existing jobs.

Struggling racetrack owners have long lobbied for slot machine licenses. Pacheco's district includes a greyhound track, but voters recently outlawed live greyhound racing in the state.

Critics say casinos bring hidden social and economic costs. They are calling on lawmakers to hold off and commission an independent casino study.

The draft version of the Senate bill establishes three licenses for resort casinos to be distributed in each of three regions in the eastern, southeastern and western parts of the state.

The proposal also requires those bidding on a casino license to pay a community impact fee and get the approval of local voters through a referendum in the community hosting the casino.

If multiple projects in a region meet the requirements, the license would be awarded through an auction.

Under the plan, any tribe that receives a casino license would be required to enter into a contract with the state and be subject to the same conditions as any other casino license-holder, including paying a certain percentage of gambling revenues to the state.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has struck a deal with the city of Fall River to develop "an integrated resort-style casino" including three hotels, a shopping mall, convention facilities, a showroom and a spa on approximately 300 acres of land along Route 24.

The draft Senate bill doesn't specify how much the license fees would cost or how much of their revenues casinos would be required to turn over to the state.

"Our goal is to ensure a rate that maximizes the Commonwealth's revenue from gaming, while ensuring that the casinos are not taxed to the point of instability," the draft plan says.

The Senate plan would create a new state police unit to oversee the casinos, funded by assessments on the casinos, and allow people with gambling addictions to put their names on a list barring their access to casinos.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, through a spokesman, said Wednesday that he's committed to the House plan, including the racetrack slots. DeLeo has two racetracks in his district.

A spokeswoman for Patrick, who is opposed to racetrack slots, said he remains focused on the plan that would create the biggest boost for the state's economy through "a limited number of destination resort casinos, geographically dispersed."

This program aired on June 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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