Supporters of expanded gambling said it would be a boost to the economy, but critics called it a tax on the poor, at a crowded State House hearing today on a proposal to open three casinos in the state.
"I see this as an important jobs bill that will put people to work immediately," said New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang.
But State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston said the proposal was just "a fancy way of putting a tax on the poor. ... And I just don't believe that's the way we should be going as a state."
Hundreds of people jammed into the Gardner Auditorium to have their say on a recently unveiled Senate bill during a hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The crowd was dominated by union members wearing orange T-shirts bearing the message "Casinos Now, Jobs Now." A smaller number of casino opponents wore red T-shirts.
A draft copy of the 141-page bill released by the committee calls for the state to issue up to three gaming licenses, with one dedicated "for an approved Native American tribe." The casinos would be located in the east, southeast, west portions of the state.
The Senate bill contains no provisions for slot machines at the state's four racetracks.
By not proposing the slot machines, the Senate has set up a potential clash with the House, which has approved a bill authorizing two casinos and up to 750 slots at each track.
The hearing was expected to include testimony from Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki.
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