Chanting “We want jobs,” hundreds of members of the building trades and other unions descended on the State House today for a raucous rally and lobbying blitz in support of expanded gambling, one day before House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is to release his much-anticipated bill to legalize two casinos and slot machines at the state’s four racetracks.
About two hours later, members of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts held a State House press conference decrying what they called the “super-secret slots bill,” and the devastating social and economic costs they said that casinos would bring to Massachusetts.
Union workers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Casinos Now! Jobs Now!” tried to put a human face on the divisive issue. At a packed rally, unemployed workers spoke of how much a job building a casino would mean to them and their families in an economic crisis that has slowed, if not stopped, many large construction projects in Massachusetts.
Peter Hunnefeld, a 41-year-old journeyman electrician and married father of four from Hingham, told the rally that he has not been able to find steady work in 2 1/2 years and his home is in foreclosure.
“I’m ready to get back to work,” said Hunnefeld, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 in Dorchester. “I know that a resort-style casino project would offer me a good opportunity to get that work.”
The crowd, filled with workers wearing hard hats emblazoned with union decals, burst into applause when Hunnefeld declared that "creating jobs ought to be the one priority this state should be focusing on.”
Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and union laborer, predicted at the rally that casinos would be approved, three years after the House killed Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to license three casinos. “We will get this done this year!” Walsh declared to applause.
After the rally, the union members flooded the halls of the State House, knocking on doors and urging their state representatives to support the bill.
At their press conference, antigambling advocates called casinos a “sucker’s tax.” Kathleen Conley Norbut, president of the organization, said they would “shift wealth from players and losers and taxpayers to casino developers.”
“Where is the voice for the jobs that will be lost?” she said.
The Rev. Jack Johnson, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, said casinos would kill small businesses and strain local communities with added police, regulatory and social costs.
“Slots will bring new costs to every citizen, even those who never set foot in a slot parlor or casino,” Johnson said.
He argued that it is cruel and morally indefensible for casino proponents to dismiss compulsive gambling as “simply the cost of doing business.”
Norbut said she was concerned that no one knows the details of the bill, and is worried that the bill might be sent directly to the House floor for a vote without any public hearing. That fast-tracking, she said, should concern all citizens, regardless of whether they support or oppose casinos.
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