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Mass. Senate Approves Bill Licensing 3 Casinos

The Massachusetts Senate has approved a landmark bill to license three resort-style casinos, moving the state one step closer to its most dramatic expansion of gambling in more than a generation.

The Senate voted 25-15 on Thursday to approve the bill after nearly 30 hours of debate over eight days.

The bill would allow one casino in each of three geographic zones. Supporters say the bill will create up to 15,000 permanent jobs and generate up to $355 million in annual state revenues.

The Senate bill now heads to a six-member legislative conference committee to be reconciled with the House bill, which would license just two casinos but allow 750 slot machines at each of the state's four racetracks.

The approval came hours after Senate President Therese Murray said she would allow no more of the delaying tactics that have postponed consideration of the measure for more than a week.

One of the first amendments adopted Thursday would allow a casino to be built on land in Fall River that had previously been set aside for the development of a biotechnology park. The casino would still need to win a state gaming license before being built.

Sen. Joan Menard said the change was needed to give Fall River a chance at landing one of three casino licenses the Senate's bill would distribute.

"A resort casino is about economic development," said Menard, D-Fall River.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe announced in May it had reached a deal with Fall River to develop a casino including hotels, a shopping mall and convention facilities on the 300-acres parcel along Route 24.

Sen. Mark Montigny argued against the change, calling it "a violation of the spirit and the letter" of the state constitution. He said the land use issue should not have been part of the casino debate.

"We should have a public hearing and all the environmental groups should have a say," said Montigny, D-New Bedford.

The Senate voted 27-11 to adopt the amendment.

During the debate, the Senate beat back Republican efforts to roll back last year's increase in the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. The Senate instead voted to study the issue, a parliamentary tactic often used to avoid a vote on a contentious topic.

Republicans had hoped to force the vote. Charles Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, has called for the rollback. His running mate, Richard Tisei, is the Republican Senate leader.

A second GOP proposal that would have once again exempted alcohol from the state's sales tax was defeated in a 24-13 vote.

A third Republican-backed amendment requiring casino owners use federal work programs to guarantee they are not hiring illegal immigrants was adopted by the Senate. The amendment would also bar those in the country illegally from working to build casinos.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick supports what he calls resort-style "destination casinos" but is opposed to racetracks slots, which he said won't generate as much money and as many jobs as the casinos.

The casino legislation had been fiercely contested, with opponents saying the state is chasing fool's gold that will ultimately add to social ills like compulsive gambling, divorce and crime.

"Allowing these casinos in this state at the number that we would be allowing ... would open a Pandora's Box of problems," said Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton.

Backers however, said casinos will bring both permanent jobs and construction jobs at a time when the state's unemployment rate has been hovering at more than 9 percent, while also adding hundreds of millions in new revenues.

"What's actually driving this debate are two major forces," said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

One was the prospect of an Indian electronic bingo parlor without the permission of the state and without producing revenue for the state, he said.

The other factor, he said, is that Massachusetts residents are already traveling to neighboring states and spending up to $1 billion on casino gambling, none of it coming back to the state in the form of tax revenues.

The state would receive 25 percent of all casino gambling revenues in both the House and Senate bills.

Tisei said he opposed the bill, saying the state should start with one casino before rushing into three.

During the debate in the Senate, opponents did succeed in placing some limits on casinos, including defeating a proposal which would have given casinos a partial exemption from the state's smoking ban.

Other measures, including a proposal that would have barred casinos from offering free drinks, were rejected.

The Legislature ends its formal session for the year on July 31.

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This program aired on July 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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