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Legislative Leaders Meeting On Mass. Casino Bills

Massachusetts Senate leaders made a gambling proposal to House leaders Wednesday that includes two options as the sides try to break a legislative logjam, officials with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press.

One option would allow two casinos, while the second would place the decision about casinos and racetrack slots in the hands of an independent gaming commission, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are ongoing.

Legislative leaders were meeting Wednesday afternoon in House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office following negotiations much of the week between DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray.

Murray, on her way into the meeting, declined to confirm the details of the latest offer but said she wants to get a deal finished before the clock winds down on the Legislature's formal session.

Both sides agree on adding casinos, but DeLeo favors allowing slot machines at the state's four racetracks, which Murray opposes.

Democratic Senate Ways and Means chairman Steven Panagiotakos said the goal of offering two options is to reach a decision by the end of the day.

"We've come back to the office to work on a proposal and continue to work to see if we can create 15,000 jobs in Massachusetts," Panagiotakos said.

House and Senate leaders need to get a final compromise on the broad outlines of the bill Wednesday night to give negotiators time to write and file the bill's final language by 8 p.m. Friday, Panagiotakos said.

That would allow lawmakers to debate and pass the bill Saturday, the last day of the formal session, but would not give them time to overturn any vetoes Gov. Deval Patrick might make to the bill.

The 8 p.m. deadline was needed to give legislative staff on the House and Senate budget writing committees time to craft the bill's final language, Murray said.

Patrick, however, on Wednesday said lawmakers have a responsibility to finish their work.

"The Legislature needs to stay in session until it's done, and if that means some additional days and extending the session I'm calling on them to do just that," Patrick said.

Both bills agree on the creation of a five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission to oversee the casinos, although they differ slightly on how the members of that board would be appointed.

Under the Senate bill, the governor would get to appoint three of the commissioners, including the chairman, while the attorney general and state treasurer would each appoint one.

The House bill would also create a five-member board with each member approved by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and state treasurer.

Patrick declined to say whether he would sign a bill that gave a gambling commission the final say on the number of casinos and whether to allow slots at racetracks.

The governor, who opposes slots, also said he spoke with DeLeo and Murray on Wednesday morning to get an update on the discussions.

"I've asked them to make sure I and my team are informed before they come to final agreement because it needs to be something I can sign," Patrick told reporters.

Supporters of casinos say expanded gambling in Massachusetts will bring in hundreds of millions in added revenue each year while creating up to 15,000 jobs.

Critics say casinos will end up costing the state in social ills, including compulsive gambling, increased crime and divorce while also putting pressure on existing industries including performing arts theaters and other cultural venues.

This program aired on July 28, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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