$1.8m spent on Mass. casino lobbying
Casino and gambling interests have flooded Massachusetts with nearly $1.8 million in lobbying dollars during the first six months of the year as lawmakers weighed bills that would legalize casinos and slot machines.
The surge in lobbying nearly matches the approximately $2 million spent in all of 2009.
The lobbying dollars came from 30 companies and organizations, the majority of them located outside of Massachusetts, according to an Associated Press review of lobbying reports filed with the secretary of state's office. The top spender was Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC, which runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston. The racetrack spent more than $578,000 on salaries for lobbyists and additional expenses including public relations and consulting. That compares to $336,000 spent by the track's owners on lobbyists in 2009. About $75,000 of the track's money spent this year was related to the production and marketing of a website for the group Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth, which has pushed for casinos. A call to the racetrack was not immediately returned.
Earlier this month, Suffolk Downs owners said that investors are prepared to sink $600 million or more in a proposed resort-style casino at the facility.
The casino would include as many as 5,000 slot machines, more than 200 table games, restaurants and shops in a renovated grandstand at Suffolk Downs. The project would eventually include a hotel of 400 to 600 rooms, a spa, fitness facility and more restaurants and shops in an adjacent building.
Other top lobbying spenders this year include the Las Vegas-based Development Associates, LLC ($159,744), the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe ($103,125) and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation ($90,000).
The Mashpee Wampanoags announced in May they had reached a deal with Fall River to develop a casino on the 300-acre parcel along Route 24.
The spike in lobbying comes during a period of intensive debate about whether Massachusetts should license casinos.
The Massachusetts House has approved a bill that would allow two casinos and 750 slots machines at each of the state's four racetracks, while the Senate has approved a bill that would license three casinos and maintain the state's ban on racetrack slots.
Governor Deval Patrick has said he favors casinos over racetrack slots.
A six-member legislative panel is working to draft a final compromise version of the casino bill before the end of the formal session on July 31.
The increase in casino lobbying has ramped up steadily over the past several year.
The $1.8 million spent in the past six months is dramatically higher than the approximately $800,000 spent in all of 2006.
In 2006, just 19 firms and groups were registered with the state as having hired lobbyists to represent them on casinos and gaming issues. That compares to the 33 firms and groups registered with the state on gambling issues in 2010.
Virtually all of the lobbying dollars are being spent by groups hoping to get a piece of the gambling pie if lawmakers ultimately vote to approve an expanded gaming bill.
Lobbyists working for firms hired by companies and other groups hoping to influence the gambling debate have also made thousands in campaign contributions.
Last year, those lobbyists contributed about $8,000 to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, $8,100 to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, $7,800 to Senate President Therese Murray and $4,900 to Patrick, according to an AP review.
Spokesmen for the elected officials have said it's unfair to characterize all that money as casino lobbying dollars since many of those donations come from lobbyists working for larger firms that have contracts with multiple groups interested in gambling and non-gambling topics.
State lawmakers have not had been required to file campaign finance reports yet this year.