Mass. Senate Approves Bill Licensing 3 Casinos

BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Senate has approved a landmark
bill to license three resort-style casinos, moving the state one
step closer to its most dramatic expansion of gambling in more than
a generation.

The Senate voted 25-15 on Thursday to approve the bill after
nearly 30 hours of debate over eight days.

The bill would allow one casino in each of three geographic
zones. Supporters say the bill will create up to 15,000 permanent
jobs and generate up to $355 million in annual state revenues.

The Senate bill now heads to a six-member legislative conference
committee to be reconciled with the House bill, which would license
just two casinos but allow 750 slot machines at each of the state's
four racetracks.

The approval came hours after Senate President Therese Murray
said she would allow no more of the delaying tactics that have
postponed consideration of the measure for more than a week.

One of the first amendments adopted Thursday would allow a
casino to be built on land in Fall River that had previously been
set aside for the development of a biotechnology park. The casino
would still need to win a state gaming license before being built.

Sen. Joan Menard said the change was needed to give Fall River a
chance at landing one of three casino licenses the Senate's bill
would distribute.

"A resort casino is about economic development," said Menard,
D-Fall River.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe announced in May it had reached a
deal with Fall River to develop a casino including hotels, a
shopping mall and convention facilities on the 300-acres parcel
along Route 24.

Sen. Mark Montigny argued against the change, calling it "a
violation of the spirit and the letter" of the state constitution.
He said the land use issue should not have been part of the casino

"We should have a public hearing and all the environmental
groups should have a say," said Montigny, D-New Bedford.

The Senate voted 27-11 to adopt the amendment.

During the debate, the Senate beat back Republican efforts to
roll back last year's increase in the state sales tax from 5
percent to 6.25 percent. The Senate instead voted to study the
issue, a parliamentary tactic often used to avoid a vote on a
contentious topic.

Republicans had hoped to force the vote. Charles Baker, the
Republican candidate for governor, has called for the rollback. His
running mate, Richard Tisei, is the Republican Senate leader.

A second GOP proposal that would have once again exempted
alcohol from the state's sales tax was defeated in a 24-13 vote.

A third Republican-backed amendment requiring casino owners use
federal work programs to guarantee they are not hiring illegal
immigrants was adopted by the Senate. The amendment would also bar
those in the country illegally from working to build casinos.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick supports what he calls
resort-style "destination casinos" but is opposed to racetracks
slots, which he said won't generate as much money and as many jobs
as the casinos.

The casino legislation had been fiercely contested, with
opponents saying the state is chasing fool's gold that will
ultimately add to social ills like compulsive gambling, divorce and

"Allowing these casinos in this state at the number that we
would be allowing ... would open a Pandora's Box of problems,"
said Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton.

Backers however, said casinos will bring both permanent jobs and
construction jobs at a time when the state's unemployment rate has
been hovering at more than 9 percent, while also adding hundreds of
millions in new revenues.

"What's actually driving this debate are two major forces,"
said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

One was the prospect of an Indian electronic bingo parlor
without the permission of the state and without producing revenue
for the state, he said.

The other factor, he said, is that Massachusetts residents are
already traveling to neighboring states and spending up to $1
billion on casino gambling, none of it coming back to the state in
the form of tax revenues.

The state would receive 25 percent of all casino gambling
revenues in both the House and Senate bills.

Tisei said he opposed the bill, saying the state should start
with one casino before rushing into three.

During the debate in the Senate, opponents did succeed in
placing some limits on casinos, including defeating a proposal
which would have given casinos a partial exemption from the state's
smoking ban.

Other measures, including a proposal that would have barred
casinos from offering free drinks, were rejected.
The Legislature ends its formal session for the year on July 31.
Associated Press writer Lyle Moran contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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