Baker's Views Evolving Amid Mass. Gambling Debate

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker has offered a series of evolving views on expanded gambling in Massachusetts, sparking criticism from his leading rival this election year, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

Baker has consistently said he supports legalizing one casino. He argues that the three approved last weekend by the Legislature may saturate the market.

"One reason for wanting to go slow is it's going to be a sea change for the state," he said Thursday during an interview with The Associated Press. "We don't know how this is going to affect tourism or other forms of economic development, so we should be careful."

But Baker has been far less firm and consistent about legalizing slot machine parlors, the other component of the bill passed Saturday. It has become a flashpoint between the governor and the Legislature that has put the bill in jeopardy. It also has become a point of contention between Baker and Patrick.

Baker says he favors licensing about 2,000 slot machines and holding a competitive bid for their licenses. But he also says the state's four racetrack owners would be the most likely winners, since they have established gambling venues.

Yet last October, a blog posting on his website tilted toward reserving the slot licenses for the racetracks.

"I also think we should consider permitting slot machines at the state's three race tracks," the posting said. "Slots at these tracks would preserve thousands of jobs, protect open space and reduce the demand to build multiple casinos across Massachusetts."

Baker conceded a shift in emphasis during his interview with the AP.


"My position was always one casino and a limited number of slots, and the question in my mind was whether you designate them for the racetracks or put them out to bid," he said. "But I've talked to people about this, and the tracks seem like they will be in the best position to bid on these. But it should be put out to bid because that is how you determine the true value of the licenses."

The Patrick campaign says Baker is trying to game the issue for political reasons.

"Now that Gov. Patrick has taken a principled stand against awarding no-bid slot licenses to track owners, Charlie Baker is trying to hide his previous support for these no-bid contracts," said a Patrick committee statement.

It said Baker has also been less than forthright about Big Dig cost-shifting during his tenure as Weld/Cellucci budget chief, as well as health insurance premium cost increases during the decade he served as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The bill approved by the Legislature authorizes two slot parlors, with 2,000 to 2,500 machines collectively, that are licensed through bidding between the owners of the state's four racetracks.

Patrick has lambasted that as a no-bid contract. He notes that two of the tracks are working jointly on a casino bid, essentially reserving the slot licenses for the two remaining track owners. Patrick has long opposed the slot parlors, but last week he made a shift of his own.

He offered a compromise of one parlor, the license for which would be subject to open bidding - not limited to the group of track owners.

The governor retracted that offer after the House and Senate passed their bill Saturday. Instead, he returned an amended bill calling for three casinos and no slot parlors.

"Let's just vote and enact what we all agree on," Patrick said Wednesday, "and we can have the argument about slot parlors at some other time."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has backed the slots, says he will not compromise, creating a stalemate that will effectively kill the bill for this year.

The third leading candidate in the race, independent Timothy Cahill, favors both the casinos and the slot parlors, calling the latter a bridge to the former and a means for providing an immediate infusion of revenue to cash-strapped cities and towns.

The fourth candidate, Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein, opposes expanded gambling and favors a focus on building the state's renewable energy economy.

This program aired on August 5, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.