House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo today outlined his plan to bring gambling to Massachusetts, saying he supports construction of two resort-style casinos and a limited number of slots at the state's four racetracks.
Warning that the state is mired in a "blue-collar depression,'' DeLeo said a gambling industry must be created to take its place next to the current economic engines of health care, financial services, higher education, and tourism.
Yet, he said, the gambling industry will not, by itself, save Massachusetts.
"I have cautioned before and I am going to caution everyone here again – gaming is not a panacea,'' DeLeo told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this morning. "But it is a plan, it is a plan that creates a new economic sector and new jobs in Massachusetts when we need them most.''
Governor Deval Patrick offered a mixed response to DeLeo’s proposal. He said the proposal for two resort casinos “sounds right.” But he made clear he staunchly opposes DeLeo’s plan to allow slot machines at racetracks.
“The point is that slots at the tracks are not where the jobs are,” Patrick told reporters at the State House. “Where the jobs are is in the resort-casino destination setting.”
Asked whether slots at the race tracks were a “deal-killer,” Patrick said: “Well, it has been. As I say, I don’t really see a reason yet to see it differently. And it’s simply because I don’t think it creates jobs. The big uptick in the jobs is in the resort-casino setting because you don’t have folks just working in a gambling hall. You have recreation and dining and entertainment and hotels sand the rest of it.”
Asked whether he would made a deal with DeLeo to allow slots if the bill also legalized casinos, Patrick said: “Look, the concern is this: that we’ll get the slots, but we won’t get the casinos. We need the jobs. The jobs come with the casinos.”
Senate President Therese Murray in a brief interview said today she supports casinos as the best way to create jobs but is concerned about DeLeo's plan to allow slots at the tracks.
“I think we’ve been very clear: we’re concerned about the fact that that doesn’t really bring you jobs, and the idea is permanent jobs and destinations,” Murray said at the State House today. “I’d have to look at how it’s written and how it's set up, but I think there’s a concern about adding slots and destination casinos.”
In his speech, DeLeo said he could not predict how many jobs would be created or how much revenue might be generated by legalized gambling.
While Patrick and Murray expressed some skepticism, DeLeo's plan was quickly endorsed by the corporations looking to benefit from gambling in the state. Officials at Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park in Taunton and the Mohegan Sun promised thousands of jobs of tens of millions of dollars in investment in return for the right to operate slots and a resort casino.
"As a respected community partner, Suffolk Downs is ready to begin construction and to hire thousands of skilled men and women to build a world-class entertainment, gaming, thoroughbred racing complex and hotel upon authorization by the Commonwealth,'' said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of the East Boston facility.
George Carney, owner of Raynham Park, "we are developing a plan to create more than 500 construction jobs and 1,500 new, permanent jobs if expanded gaming is approved in Massachusetts. Raynham Park’s plan is to build a destination gaming facility with full amenities at one of the ideal locations in region. Massachusetts needs this shot in the arm. ''
Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun has been pushing to build a resort casino in Palmer, not far from the Massachusetts Turnpike.
"A destination resort casino in Western Massachusetts will provide excellent job opportunities for people who are looking to begin a new career path, deliver meaningful economic impact in one of the regions where it is needed most, and create long term revenue for the entire Commonwealth,'' Jeffrey Hartmann, chief operating officer of Mohegan Sun, said in a statement.
Under DeLeo's plan, a portion of that revenue would be dedicated to a special fund to help Massachusetts manufacturers with capital investments. Gambling revenue from licensing fees and slots would go to job training programs at community colleges and to provide treatment for gambling addiction.
DeLeo is a Winthrop Democrat whose district includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere. He has been a longtime supporter of slots at tracks. Today, he added a more personal reason for supporting the tracks, recalling how he would see his father don a tuxedo before heading out to his job as a maitre d' at Suffolk Downs.
The Globe reported today on the political struggle over gambling in Massachusetts.
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