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House, Senate Race To Finish Casino Bill

Massachusetts House and Senate negotiators were scrambling Thursday to craft the final broad outlines of a casino gambling bill in time for a vote before the Legislature ends its formal session Saturday.

At the heart of the closed-door talks, which have dragged on for weeks, is what mix of casinos and slot parlor venues — if any — would be in the final bill.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo favors allowing slots at each of the state's four racetracks and licensing two casinos. Senate President Therese Murray has backed three casinos with no racetrack slots.

Sen. Richard Ross said Thursday that negotiators also were weighing the possibility of putting a number of slot parlor licenses out to bid. The Wrentham Republican, who sits on the six-member conference committee trying to work out the bill's final language, said the licenses may not be limited to the state's racetracks.

Critics of DeLeo's proposal, including Gov. Deval Patrick, have faulted the idea of setting aside licenses for the tracks, saying they would amount to no-bid state contracts.

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who also sits on the conference committee, said the final details were still in flux. "Everything is subject to change right up to the last moment," the Amherst Democrat said Thursday.

Patrick appeared to hedge Wednesday on his opposition to racetrack slots.

Asked if he would sign a bill allowing slot machines at racetracks, the governor replied, "That's not my first choice." Asked if he would sign a bill allowing one slot parlor as a compromise, he said, "I don't have that bill yet, but that's not my first choice and they know that."

Negotiators said late Wednesday that they had instructed their staffs to begin work drafting a final bill even though they had yet to reach a deal on the most critical issues dividing the two legislative bodies.

They need to file the final language of the bill by 8 p.m. Friday to allow a final vote by both chambers on Saturday, the last day of the Legislature's formal session.

That would not give lawmakers time to overturn any vetoes the governor might issue.

Supporters of casinos say expanded gambling in Massachusetts will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars 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.

The state already allows lottery games, horse racing and simulcasting of out-of-state horse and dog races.

This program aired on July 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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