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Massachusetts lawmakers approved the state's most dramatic expansion of gambling in 40 years Saturday, but Gov. Deval Patrick, in an escalating battle with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, vowed to reject the casino and slot parlor bill.
The Senate voted 25-15 to approve the bill with less than half an hour left in the Legislature's formal session. The House had earlier voted 115-36 in favor of the measure.
Despite the votes, the bill's future had already dimmed following the growing spat between Patrick and DeLeo. The friction handed casino opponents, who were bracing for final passage of the bill Saturday, an unexpected reprieve.
Hours before the House vote, DeLeo challenged Patrick to either sign the bill as written, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.
DeLeo, surrounded by dozens of members of the Massachusetts House, delivered an impassioned challenge to Patrick, who had earlier left open the possibility of last-minute negotiations.
"Make no mistake about this. Anything short of Gov. Patrick signing this bill represents a decision to kill the prospects of 15,000 new jobs and bring immediate local aid to our cities and towns," DeLeo said, standing on the steps of the State House's grand staircase.
Patrick responded that if lawmakers sent him the compromised version of bill as written, he would return it in an amended form that would strip out all racetrack slot parlors, leaving just three casinos.
"I have proposed a compromise that provides for one slots facility in addition to destination resorts, so long as that competition for that license is open and transparent," Patrick said. "The Legislature has so far rejected that compromise."
The clash cast grave doubts over whether a deal could be worked out to salvage the bill.
Senate President Therese Murray said she wanted to see what action the governor takes on the bill, but also conceded she didn't have the votes to call the Senate back into a formal session to override a veto or respond to an amended bill from Patrick.
"I haven't seen the governor veto it. I'll wait and see what happens," she told reporters after the end of the Senate session.
The bill calls for three casinos and two slot parlors to be bid on by the state's four racetracks. 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.
Patrick had said he could accept one slots parlor, provided that it would be up for bid for any party, instead of limiting the licenses to the racetracks.
Currently, Massachusetts allows lottery games, horse racing and simulcasting of out-of-state horse and dog races.
Under the 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.
Earlier Saturday Patrick said his offer of a single slot parlor had 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.
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 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.
Patrick also filed a bill Saturday that was passed by both chambers to let the state's racetracks continue simulcasting races from other states, which otherwise would have ended at midnight.
This program aired on August 1, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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