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Two to three years: that's how long a key state senator is predicting it will be before casinos begin operating in Massachusetts. It may be sooner for a slot parlor to open up. This, after the state Senate approved the bill authorizing three resort casinos and a slot parlor.
There was never any doubt the Senate would approve the casino bill. The final vote was 24 to 14. Most of the contentious issues that derailed a similar bill last year had long ago been worked out between legislative leaders and the governor. Senators did approve 50 amendments and those differences need to be reconciled with the House.
"I think most of the differences are sort of in technical areas that are a yawn to the public," said Amherst state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, who has been the Senate's point man on casinos for years.
"There are no major, major policy differences that can't be resolved relatively quickly," Rosenberg said.
Amendments approved over the drawn-out Senate debate include a "cooling off" period, prohibiting lawmakers from taking a job with a private casino company for one year. There's also a provision opening the door to allow bars and restaurants not located at casinos to offer free alcoholic drinks. And there's the strengthening of some community mitigation measures aimed at giving residents more say as to whether they want casinos in their cities and towns.
Senate President Therese Murray said the casino bill is all about jobs.
"This is an economic development bill, and it's going to create jobs and we have over 250,000 people out of work in the commonwealth, and that's why we're doing this bill," Murray said. "And the revenue we're going to pull back from the the other states around our borders where our people now go, $1.8 billion, if we can even capture $1.3 (billion) of that, I'll be very happy."
But not everyone in the Senate is happy.
"I think this is a very, very bad decision and one that will hurt all of Massachusetts," said Acton Sen. Jamie Eldridge.
Casino opponents, including Eldridge, say the bill is a little better because of the community mitigation amendments, but still not the right way to go.
"I think it's negatively going to affect small businesses, it's going to affect downtown communities. It's going to create significant traffic, public safety, environmental impacts," Eldridge said. "And I think the costs will not be made up by the revenues that will be created. And I think the jobs, although there will be jobs created, it will create the loss of a lot of jobs in small businesses."
Next stop for the bill is likely a House-Senate conference committee that will work out the differences. House Speaker Robert DeLeo doesn't expect that to be difficult.
"I feel like there is a willingness and a hope that we can bring expanded gaming into the commonwealth and I think because of that, I think we will," DeLeo said.
Once the final version is reached, it will be up to the governor to sign the bill. Gov. Deval Patrick has indicated his support, however casino foes are expected to try to convince him to change his mind.
This program aired on October 14, 2011.
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