Democratic US Senate candidate Alan Khazei urged the Boston Chamber of Commerce today to drop its broad support for casino gambling, an industry that Khazei said thrives on separating low-income people from their desperately needed cash.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting attended by the three other Democratic primary candidates, Khazei drew a smattering of applause when he urged several hundred business leaders to begin opposing casino gambling.
"Our state, this state, is the hallmark of American democracy,’’ said Khazei. “Casino gambling will irrevocably change the culture and fabric of our state. It’s a decision we can’t change.’’
Khazei said that he was aware gambling proponents argue the industry will bring jobs, but he said the better choice would be to invest in high-tech or the clean energy industries.
Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, told reporters after the meeting that Khazei has jumped the gun because the chamber will wait for the final proposal to clear legislative hurdles before formally declaring – or rejecting – its stance on gambling.
Guzzi also said the chamber has set out four principles that any gambling proposal must adhere to before they will fully endorse it, including proof that there will be substantial job growth and that the state will see increased tax revenue.
“I think Alan may have been a bit premature,’’ Guzzi said, noting that no specific legislation has yet taken form on Beacon Hill so the chamber is not actively backing a particular plan. Anything that creates jobs in Massachusetts needs to be seriously looked at.’’
In comments following the meeting, US Representative Michael Capuano said he was not actively involved in the casino gambling issue because it is not a matter that will be addressed by the US Senate.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said that in her position as the state’s top lawyer she has been advising lawmakers and Governor Deval Patrick on how to properly enforce and regulate any gaming industry the state eventually embraces.
Steven Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and a successful businessman, said he is skeptical casino gambling will help the state’s economy, but could be convinced to support the concept if advocates show there will be permanent job creation.
The issue will be the subject of a Beacon Hill hearing on Thursday.
During the meeting, the candidates also previewed the pitch they will make to voters this evening during this evening’s televised debate, the first of the campaign triggered by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy earlier this year.
The debate, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, runs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will be televised on WCVB, WBZ, WHDH, NECN, and WGBH, and it can also be heard on WBUR, WGBH-FM, and WBZ radio.
In what is a likely preview of their speeches during tonight’s debate, Capuano asked for the support of Chamber members because of his success in bringing federal investment to his district. He cited a wind power research center in Charlestown as one example of his success.
“I don’t think it’s time after 47 years of the greatest senator in the history of this country to send someone to Washington who has to learn the job from scratch,’’ he said.
Coakley, who is perceived as the frontrunner, said she wants to beef up regulation of the financial sector, remain vigilant on homeland security issues, find a national solution to the health care crisis and strengthen clean energy and increase green jobs.
“Going forward, we really need to make sure that we focus on getting things done,’’ Coakley said.
Pagliuca referred to his successful career as an investor and businessman and used the fact that he is using some of his own money to wage his campaign as a reason to vote for him.
“Who is going to get something done? Who is going to get results? Who is not corrupted by special interest money?’’ he said. “That’s me.’’
Khazei used time set aside for a closing statement to speak against casino gambling.
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