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Despite bill's defeat, governor continues study on casinos

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / March 25, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick is plowing ahead with a $189,000 casino study, even though his plan for bringing casino-style gambling to the state is dead until at least next January.

Responding to questions about the study, Daniel O'Connell, state economic development secretary, released a statement late yesterday afternoon saying that his office will allow Spectrum Gaming of New Jersey to complete its work.

Spectrum has spent about a month on the three-month contract, but the company has yet to bill the state for any of its work. O'Connell said the administration was sticking with the contract based on questions from lawmakers during the casino debate, which ended when the House killed Patrick's bill for three casinos last week.

"We have been encouraged by our colleagues in the Legislature to obtain a credible and objective analysis of the impact of expanded gambling in the Commonwealth," the statement said. "We believe the outcome of this analysis will prove valuable for future public policy decisions."

But one legislative leader said yesterday that the study will be stale by the time the issue reaches the Legislature in its next session, which begins in January, and recommended that the contract be terminated to save money.

"The administration should pay the consultants for the time already put into the study and be done with it," said state Representative Daniel E. Bosley, cochairman of the committee that made a negative recommendation on the casino plan last week.

"If the governor files his casino bill again next year, the study will be almost a year old at that time," Bosley said.

The Spectrum study was intended to help gain passage of Patrick's proposal to raise $400 million in new annual revenues by licensing three resort-style casinos.

"This engagment is primarily intended to serve in an advisory role to assist in dealing with various issues that arise as the resort casinos legislation progresses," according to the terms of the contract.

But that process was truncated Thursday when the House defeated the plan, 108 to 46.

One day earlier, two Spectrum representatives testified before the joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. But that testimony lasted only 10 minutes and came after 9 p.m., some 11 hours into the hearing.

The Spectrum representatives emphasized at the hearing that a successful casino industry required "realistic expectation" and a "robust, comprehensive process to ensure that the bidding process - and the successful bidders - address all the necessary issues," according to a copy of the written testimony.

A spokesman for O'Connell declined to answer questions beyond the statement he released yesterday.

But Bosley said he wondered why the administration waited until late February to sign a three-month contract for almost $200,000, when the casino proposal was heading for a legislative hearing within a month.

Patrick announced his support in September for putting three casino licenses out to bid, which he said would raise as much as $800 million in one-time fees; the plan would have designated one casino each for metropolitan Boston, Southeastern Massachusetts, and Worcester County or Western Massachusetts.

At the time he filed his bill, Patrick relied on research compiled by O'Connell's department from various sources, including magazines and books. Included in that compilation were two studies by casino companies, each one forecasting bountiful tax revenues and new jobs.

Patrick waited to sign a contract with Spectrum on his specific legislation until Feb. 19. With a lack of independent statistics, Patrick's numbers came under attack, particularly after a Globe article showed that his estimate of 30,000 new construction jobs appeared to be excessively optimistic.

The article also stated that Patrick had developed that estimate based on an analysis by Suffolk Downs, one of the region's top gambling companies and a prospective casino license bidder.

Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.

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