Casino and Slots Bill Passes the House

Robert DeLeo

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed the casino bill on Wednesday with a veto-proof 120-37 vote margin. The bill would authorize up to two resort style casinos and up to 750 slot machines at each of the state’s four race tracks.

Supporters say this will will bring in thousands of construction jobs and would capture $1.1 billion that Massachusetts gamblers spend in nearby states. The question is, who captures that money, and where does it go afterwards? The answer is simple – first the state takes its cut of the money in taxes, after that the rest leaves the state in the form of pure profit for out of state gambling interests from Nevada and New Jersey. In fact the casinos are likely to take in more than just what is currently spent out of state and send it out of state.

And why does the bill include slots at race tracks? Additional slot machines don’t create construction jobs – and they don’t employ anyone to manage them. The machines suck money out of gambler’s pockets with mechanical precision and without any human intervention. Of course the reason is because legislators know that resort casinos would kill Massachusetts race tracks if they didn’t have the slot machines. So of course they have to protect the race track’s expected loss of business.

But what about all the small businesses the will close because of the casinos? Why won’t the legislature protect them? Well unlike the race tracks, small businesses can’t afford big money lobbyists like corrupt former speakers turned casino lobbyists Finneran and Flaherty. In fact there are about 12 casino lobbyists spreading money around Beacon Hill right now.

And all the families who will suffer a foreclosure, suicide or other social problem that the casinos bring? They are only voters. They don’t have lobbyists either.

Representative Jennifer Callahan, a Sutton Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to force a public hearing on the bill, but that was voted down 118 to 34. The legislature has already heard from all the insider interests that matter. The voice of the public would merely be a distraction from the business of delivering for the interests that matter – interests with cash in hand.

There were a lot more proposed ammendments which were defeated. For example there was one to require the posting of odds of winning on the slot machines. That’s bad for the casino business – so it was killed without debate. There was another to outlaw the pumping of pheromones into the ventilation system at casinos. It’s a bizarre concept – but the operators want to make sure they have the right to try it out on the public.

In 2008 a similar casino bill went down to defeat by a wide margin.  This year many legislators flip flopped on the casino issue. These legislators will tell you that the worsening economy is what changed their mind. But I think we know better.

Last time the speaker was DiMasi, who was an opponent of expanded gambling. The speaker has the ability to assign committee chairmanships which not only gives legislators power, but also increases their pay substantially. This year the speaker is DeLeo, a casino supporter, and legislators want to make sure they are on his good side. Legislators voting against the casino bill don’t for the most part have chairmanships – and after their no votes are unlikely to get any in the near future.

Representative Ellen Story, who voted for the bill, was uncharacteristically honest about why so many legislators voted for the casino bill:

“This is the bill [DeLeo] has cared about more than any other bill. My sense is that there may well be consequences for people voting against this bill — particularly people in his inner circle.”

The Globe has this to say about Ellen:

After 17 years of serving in the back benches of the House, Representative Elllen Story, an Amherst Democrat newly elevated to Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s leadership team, said she wasn’t willing to risk being marginalized, so she will vote for the bill despite opposing gambling bills in the past.

It may have taken her a few years, but I think she has learned how to play the game. I suspect she’s regretting her honesty with the Globe right about now.

Here is a roll call of those courageous legislators who have given up their ambitions for committee chairmanships under DeLeo by voting no on the casino bill:

Democrats: Ashe, Balser, Bosley, Brownsberger, Callahan, Conroy, Curran, D’Amico, Dykema, Finegold, Fox, Garballey, Guyer, Hecht, Kaufman, Madden, Malia, Patrick, Peake, Pignatelli, Provost, Rodrigues, Rogers, Rushing, Sanchez, Scaccia, Sciortino, Smizik, St. Fleur, Torrisi, Turner, Walz, Wolf;

Republicans: deMacedo, Evangelidis, Polito, Smola.

If your Representative is on this list, you should thank them. They went to bat for you. If they aren’t on the list you should consider how many of your Rep’s contributors are casino lobbyists.

The battle over casinos is not over. The bill still has to be voted on in the Senate which is at least right now a little more independent. There are more opponents of the slots provision there, and the Governor has promised to veto the bill if it contains the slots provision. Some hope that differences between the House, Senate and the Governor will ultimately doom the bill. More likely it will pass in a closed door meeting between Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. The public is not invited. But I’m sure the lobbyists are.

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