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The Massachusetts Legislature gave initial approval Saturday to a casino bill that would create the most sweeping expansion of gambling in the state in four decades, even as Gov. Deval Patrick opposed the measure.
The bill would authorize three casinos and two slot machine parlors, to be bid on by the state's four racetrack owners.
Currently, Massachusetts allows lottery games, horse racing and simulcasting of out-of-state horse and dog races.
The votes — 25-15 in the Senate and 115-36 in the House — were the first hurdles toward moving the bill to Patrick's desk. A series of additional votes are required before the Legislature can end its formal session by midnight Saturday.
Patrick said he would send the bill back to lawmakers recommending changes. Long opposed to slot machine parlors, he said he would agree to one slot parlor license that is open to all bidders.
Under the compromise bill, the state would receive $85 million from each of the casino licenses and $20 million to $25 million from the licenses for the racetrack slot parlors, also known as racinos. Each of the two racinos would be allowed to have between 1,000 and 1,250 slot machines, depending on their location.
Casino supporters argued that Massachusetts has been losing gambling dollars when residents travel to nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island to bet.
The votes spotlighted increasing tension between the Democratic governor and fellow Democrat House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who supports racetrack slots. Two of the state's tracks — Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere and Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston — are in the DeLeo's Winthrop-based district.
After the governor previously vowed not to sign the bill if it came to his desk, DeLeo chided Patrick.
"I find it hard to believe that Governor Patrick will veto 15,000 jobs and the prospect of immediate local aid funds for cities and towns," DeLeo said in a statement Friday.
Patrick said Saturday his views have not changed. He noted that since two of the state's racetracks — Wonderland and Suffolk Downs — are pursuing a casino license, the two slot parlor licenses would go to the state's two remaining tracks.
"I want a bill that has licenses that are genuinely competitive," he said. "The whole idea of doing slot parlors is not where I want to be."
During legislative debate, supporters argued the bill would create thousands of jobs and bring in up to $400 million in new annual revenue.
Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, whose district includes Wonderland, said the bill would also help preserve existing jobs at the state's struggling racetracks.
"These people matter. These jobs matter," said Reinstein, D-Revere. "Today is the day we restore hope to thousands of men and women who will benefit from this industry."
Casino foes warned that the profit predictions were overblown and won't offset problems associated with casinos, including a rise in compulsive gambling, marital strife and crime.
"These machines are like setting up crack cocaine shops all over," said Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, referring to slot machines.
Rep. Matthew Patrick said the state doesn't know the real societal costs of the bill.
"Would Christ even conceive of a bill that would bring so much pain and suffering to families?" Patrick, D-Falmouth, said.
The bill was written in such a way that the governor cannot issue a line-item veto targeting the two racetrack slot parlors. The bill would let the governor enter into a casino agreement with one of the state's two federally recognized tribes. It would allow one casino in each of three geographic locations in the state and would set aside revenues to help those addicted to gambling.
The House originally passed a bill that called for two casinos and 750 slot machines at each of the four tracks. The original Senate bill called for three casinos but no racetrack slots.
Late Saturday, Patrick also filed a bill to let the state's racetracks continue simulcasting races from other states, which otherwise would end at midnight. Patrick said his bill would give the tracks some breathing room while the details of the larger bill are worked out.
This program aired on July 31, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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