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Senate Passes 3-Casino Bill, But Much Still In Flux02:03

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Expanded gambling is one step closer to reality in Massachusetts. Around 9 p.m. on Thursday, the Senate voted 25-15 in favor of casinos (See the votes here). The plan calls for three resort-style casinos: one in western Massachusetts, one in southeastern Massachusetts and one in Greater Boston. The Senate plan does not call for slots at the state's four racetracks, in contrast to the House's plan.

Thursday night's vote happened after more than a week of debate and plenty of delays.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch has been following all eight days of debate, and joined Deborah Becker to discuss the bill.

Deborah Becker: Curt, do the eight days of debate and nearly 200 amendments reflect a Senate that was closely divided on this issue?

Ironically, the reason (debate) took so long was that the outcome in the Senate was never really in doubt.

Curt Nickisch: No, ironically the reason it took so long was that the outcome in the Senate was never really in doubt. You had a lot of attempted tweaking of the bill, you had folks bringing up pet issues — and you had opponents who knew they didn’t have the votes to kill it and they just dragged their feet.

Democrat Susan Tucker of Andover, for example, fought the bill even though she knew it to be a lost cause.

"So many times today, I’ve heard casino gambling as economic development. And the opposite is true. It’s an economic drain," Tucker said. "And it goes to very, very wealthy people that don’t live in the good old United States of America."

As she put it, out-of-state lobbyists and casino developers were going to be popping champagne corks.

The House passed the casino bill in April, but that version allows just two casinos and it would let the state’s four existing dog and horse racetracks install slot machines. The governor has to sign off on a merged version of the House and Senate bills, but he’s against racetracks slots. And all this has to happen soon because the State House session ends at the end of the month. Can this legislation come together by then?

If you’re an opponent, you’re hoping they don’t, right? Racetrack slots seem like the biggest obstacles, but that’s not the only difference. The Senate restricted the three casinos to difference regions of the state, but the House version doesn’t do that. House Speaker Robert DeLeo doesn’t sound worried about bridging those differences.

"I feel confident only in the sense that the governor is in support of some form of expanded gaming. I am and the Senate president is," DeLeo said. "I think because three of us are in support of the concept, we’ll have something I would think by the end of the term."

If he's right that they can come together, we're looking at two, maybe three casinos in the commonwealth, and maybe slots at racetracks?

Actually, we’re talking three, maybe four, maybe even five casinos in Massachusetts.

We’re talking three, maybe four, maybe even five casinos in Massachusetts.

Federal law dictates that as soon as Gov. Patrick signs a casino gambling bill, American Indian tribes can build their own casinos on their own land in Massachusetts — and they don’t have to pay any money to the state. That's in contrast to the private developers, who have to bid on a license. So you could start with three privately developed casinos. Then the Mashpee Wampanoag could build one too and the Aquinnah could build one on Martha’s Vineyard.

That may be the bigger issue facing Patrick, Murray and DeLeo right now. There is, of course, also going to be a lot of talk about slots at racetracks, but if you do the math, only one of those three players — DeLeo — is in favor.

I think the bigger issue for them is how many casinos, and whether or not to bring one of the tribes into the deal. That will have more impact on how much revenue the state eventually gets.

When Patrick came up with his casino plan two years ago, he wanted three casinos, one of which would be tribally run. Is that still an option?

In a way, you almost have to forget about the different versions of the bills that have been passed. Now, lawmakers are actually going to write one that counts.

The big three all agree they want expanded gambling, but we've seen that several differences still need to be ironed out. It’s almost like the state has to come up with its business plan on how it’s going to make the most out of the proposition.


This program aired on July 2, 2010.

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