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Lawmakers Agree On Gambling Bill; Veto Looms

Speaker Robert DeLeo announced a bill approving the licensing of three casinos and two slot parlors at a news conference Friday at the State House. (Josh Reynolds/AP)
Speaker Robert DeLeo announced a bill approving the licensing of three casinos and two slot parlors at a news conference Friday at the State House. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

Massachusetts State House leaders say they have a deal on expanded gambling that they will pass Saturday. But Gov. Deval Patrick says: no deal.

After weeks of negotiations, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray now support the same bill. The compromise would allow three resort-style casinos, but also slot machines at two racetracks in Massachusetts. Each license would cost $85 million. The measure would also permit two slot parlors under a competitive bidding process, with licenses costing between $20 and $25 million.

DeLeo said he held out for slot machine parlors to create gambling jobs faster. "And nothing, nothing in this session is more important than that," DeLeo said.

Despite her longstanding opposition to slot machines in the commonwealth, Murray says this version of the bill represents compromise.

"What I didn’t want was a box with slots. And instead, with this bill, there is substantial capital investment for anyone who gets those two licenses," Murray said.

But Patrick says he does not support this deal. And Saturday is the last day of the regular session. So if they pass it and he vetoes it, it’ll be up to lawmakers whether to reconvene, or leave it for dead.

"They have it entirely within their power, if they feel they need more time. To give it more time to get it right," Patrick said. "But the most important thing is to get it right! Because as I said, these are decisions we are going to live with in this commonwealth for decades."

Lawmakers must approve the bill before formal sessions at midnight Saturday.

"I'm at one. Period."

Gov. Deval Patrick

A plan to create both casinos and slot parlors would be a major victory for DeLeo, who has fought for slots as a way to save jobs at the four dying racetracks and to provide struggling cities and towns an infusion of cash.

Two of the tracks, Suffolk Downs and Wonderland, are in the Democrat's Winthrop-based district, and DeLeo's father formerly worked at Suffolk.

With the Legislature set to adjourn for the year at midnight Saturday, Patrick offered to break the logjam Thursday by declaring he would support no more than one slot parlor.

"I'm at one. Period," he told reporters Friday at a bill signing in Cambridge.

But the governor is under heavy pressure from labor unions to approve a bill, since they believe expanded gambling could create up to 15,000 jobs.

In addition to arguing that slot parlors could help struggling municipalities, advocates argue that placing them at racetracks would avoid possible neighborhood objections over new gambling sites.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch contributed to this report.

This program aired on July 30, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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