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Once again, it appears that gambling will soon take center stage at the State House. But it won't be the drawn-out stand-off that we saw last year. This time, the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker hope to reach an agreement that will quickly be approved by legislators — maybe as soon as the next few weeks.
WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with WBUR's Martha Bebinger about a new bill in the works that would allows casinos in Massachusetts.
Sacha Pfeiffer: At least compared to last year, gambling seems to have fallen off the public radar in Massachusetts. There was one State House hearing on gambling last month, but very little public discussion about casinos. Is that intentional?
Martha Bebinger: Yes, it is, in part. There's a lot of frustration about how this issue was handled last year and how much time it took up with no real outcome, according to supporters, in the end. Lawmakers spent a lot of time explaining to their members why they spent all this time on casino gambling and didn't deliver a bill in the end. So, this time, legislators hope that Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Roberst DeLeo can resolve their differences in advance and release a bill that is essentially pre-approved.
Are Patrick and the heads of the House and Senate actually close to an agreement?
There continues to be broad agreement to expand gambling with three casinos. There are no major disputes on the tax structure or about giving the attorney general a strong oversight and regulatory role. There is, though, a question of whether a casino license in Boston would be worth more than one in southern Massachusetts or the western part of the state. So there are a few issues to deal with.
The most likely compromise right now seems to involve one competitively bid "racino."
But the main lingering issue is whether to allow slots at the tracks. That's what blew up everything last year: the "racinos." So, in addition to the casinos, it's whether you would have one or two or any at all, and whether they'd be competitively bid or not. Patrick started out wanting none at all. He wants them to be competitively bid if we do offer this option of slots at the racetracks. DeLeo was holding out for two racinos and he didn't like that demand for the competitive bid. Senate President Therese Murray has not really taken a firm stand on this issue, so it's really about whether these two men can reach a compromise.
And last year they couldn't, right? Last year Patrick and DeLeo could not reach an agreement about a mix of casinos versus slots and that ended up spiking the whole thing. What is it about this year that might be different?
Well, they're embarrassed that they didn't get something done last year. There is still the sense that that revenue is very needed here. The legislators behind the House and Senate leadership want this to get done. And if it does just come down to the issue of racinos, then let's find a compromise. The most likely compromise right now seems to be to go with one and it would be competitively bid.
Once the state budget is done and in place for July 1, the new fiscal year, do you expect gambling to be the next hot topic at the State House again?
If they can reach a compromise, yes. Some people I spoke to who are working on redrafting the bill hope that it might be out by the end of June. They want this done by the end of July. They want to move on to other issues and have this clear. And they don't, as I said, want it to suck all the oxygen out of the State House as they start working on redistricting and health care and other issues. But opponents aren't giving up. They plan to talk to lawmakers who they think are on the fence on this issue and might be swayed to vote against a casino bill.
But it is possible that by late July we could potentially have a casino law in Massachusetts?
That's right. Once this agreement is out, if there is an agreement, they hope to have a vote in the House, a vote in the Senate, and turn it around in just a few days.
This program aired on June 9, 2011.
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