David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Casinos. Resort-style gambling. Slot machines at race tracks. Video lottery terminals. A new state gaming control authority. Broadening the scope of the state lottery to oversee casinos.
A wide-ranging, boisterous, and occasionally contentious legislative hearing today offered a glimpse of what type of expanded gambling may be coming to Massachusetts. Facing 16 competing bills and near-desperation among labor leaders seeking construction jobs, the joint legislative panel fielded hours of impassioned but familiar testimony about casino gambling.
The audience in the packed Gardner Auditorium was repeatedly asked not to clap for speakers, but Massachusetts AFL-CIO president Robert Haynes drew loud, sustained applause and whistles after testifying that -- despite opponents’ concerns that gambling would unleash social problems -- jobs at casino could relieve some of the social ills already plaguing families devastated by unemployment.
“There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more debilitating and difficult to deal with than not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from,” Haynes said, adding, "Destination resort gaming offers hope to families that are struggling, plain and simple and where else will we get this potentially large infusion of revenue?”
Impassioned opponents -- many of them longtime legislative opponents -- reacted to that argument just as viscerally.
State Senator Susan Tucker called the case in favor of casinos "wrongheaded" and challenged many of the assumptions made by people embracing casinos as a salve for economic woes.
“It’s the worst possible time we could be considering casino gambling. Casinos all over the country are going bankrupt,” said Tucker, a Democrat from Andover, adding that the economy needs consumers to spend money at local businesses.
“We don't have any money,” grumbled one union member overlooking the auditorium from the gallery.
Tucker challenged supporters' estimates about how much money casinos could bring to Massachusetts.
“Start subtracting,” she said, because those profits would be cut by costs, including new regulations and government employees needed to oversee and audit the new industry. “You’ve already spent the money and haven't even addressed the addiction problem,” Tucker said.
Slot machines would take gambling to a new level, Tucker said, objecting to the state partnering with an industry that makes its profits in addiction. Casinos would be different from the existing lottery and Keno games, she said, because, “It’s not the same thing. The Lottery does not seek out and market potential addicts.”
Representative David Flynn came at the issue from another direction because his district is home to Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park. After years of differing opinions, the governor and speaker are finally in agreement about expanding gambling, “except nobody knows how to do it," Flynn said.
“I am completely frustrated,” said Flynn, a Raynham Democrat. “I’ve been filing legislation for years and years and I say, shame on me that no one listens and shame on you ... for not doing what we should have done a long time ago.”
The race track in Flynn's district could be retrofitted for gambling within four months and is ready to spend $200 million on expansion to hold onto existing jobs, he said. But instead, the track that once employed 1,000 people is down to 600 and losing more jobs every day, he said.
“Please, I implore you, join hands with me,” Flynn said. “Let’s get the job done. We’re ready. We’re willing.”
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