Session Ends, Discord Endures: Casino Gambling Remains At Impasse

With less than a half hour to spare before midnight struck to end the formal legislative session Saturday, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a casino gambling bill. But the bill is still at an impasse. Gov. Deval Patrick says it is not in a form that he would support.

WBUR's Curt Nickisch covered the eleventh-hour wrangling at the State House and joined WBUR's Sharon Brody in the studio to talk about the session.

Sharon Brody: What's the sticking point on this bill?

Curt Nickisch: Slot machines. The State House and the governor's office both want gambling, but disagree on how to do it. The real question is how many of the state’s existing horse and dog racetracks should be allowed to have slot machines as kind of a side deal next to the big resort-style casinos that are part of bill.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo wants two racinos. Patrick will only go as far as one. So that’s where the two Democrats started Saturday proceedings, and that’s where they were when the State House adjourned. A strong majority in both the House and the Senate passed a version that has two slot parlors at racetracks in it. But the governor says he can’t support that.

So is it dead?


Depends. The governor said Saturday night that he would send it back to lawmakers with an amendment. That means they would have to come back from their vacations, reconvene into formal session to deal with that. It’s not clear that they would. So the casino gambling bill is very much up in the air.

I think for the a lot of us following this this past week, first there was no deal, then there was a deal — lots of negotiations behind closed doors. But I think a lot of people thought they'd finally come together by the deadline. Surprised they didn't?

It’s more surprising how apparent this discord is. You know, I’ve been to many news conferences, but last night’s with Speaker DeLeo was one of those rare ones where you can really see the psyche of the politician. He made a big entrance, stood on the grand staircase in the State House with dozens of representatives behind him. His hands were shaking. And he practically defied Patrick to sign his version of the bill.

"Make no mistake about this," DeLeo said. "Anything short of the Gov. Patrick signing this bill represents a decision to kill 15,000 new jobs and bring immediate local aid to our cities and towns."

So what's the governor's position?

The governor says slot machines at racetracks may, on one hand, help the tracks, but on the other hand take business away from the three resort-style casinos that are the bigger money-makers in this bill. And since some of the tracks look interested in a full casino license, you could have a situation where two racetracks are bidding for two racino licenses. That's not exactly cutthroat competition to give the state the best deal. Here’s how the governor put it earlier Saturday:

"You know, I'm worried about jobs, too," Patrick said. "But I think there's a way to get these jobs that doesn't have an adverse effect on the commonwealth, and doesn't have an impact on our commitment to having an open and transparent and competitive process."

That’s the disagreement. Politically, it’s interesting that these two guys not budging. And remember that Patrick is in a reelection race.

So let me ask you about what else the State House legislators did pass yesterday that will become law?

I think the CORI bill may be the most significant of what was passed. The bill deals with criminal records to help former criminals find work. Rather than allowing employers largely unrestricted access to your criminal records, this bill now places restrictions on when employers can have access. That was a key thing that Patrick wanted.

Lawmakers had also been working on a big measure to try to control the fast rising cost of health care for small businesses. What eventually passed, though, was a kind of scaled back, weaker version.

They also passed a bill that among other things would bring back the sales tax holiday in a couple of weeks.

This program aired on August 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.