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Mass. Senate postpones debate on casino proposal

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press Writer / June 25, 2010

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BOSTON—The Massachusetts Senate abruptly delayed debate on its plan to license three resort-style casinos Friday after Republicans accused Democratic leaders of thwarting votes on their amendments to repeal certain tax increases and direct some of the gambling revenue toward lowering homeowners' property taxes.

Republican leader, Sen. Richard Tisei of Wakefield, called for the postponement just before 5 p.m.

Tisei said Senate Democrats were trying to quash debate on key Republican amendments including one that would channel gambling revenues back into a fund for property tax relief.

The Senate planned to return Saturday at 10 a.m. to resume debate.

"We're going to use all the parliamentary tools we have available to us to try to get clear up-and-down votes on some of these issues," said Tisei, who is also the Republican Party's candidate for lieutenant governor in the fall election.

"Our priority right now is to get the casino proceeds directed in a way that they benefit either cities and towns, property taxpayers or the taxpayers of the state," he added.

Democrats said the delay won't prevent a final vote on the casino plan, although that might not come until next week. Tisei indicated he may move to again delay debate on the casino plan on Saturday.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell said there is still a lot of debate left and that he hadn't expected to finish up on Friday.

"I don't think it really upsets the apple cart," he said.

Republicans charged that Democrats were trying to frustrate their efforts to have clean up and down votes on GOP amendments by using a parliamentary tactic of laying a "further amendment" on top of the Republican amendments.

One of those Republican amendments would create a property tax relief fund with proceeds from the casinos and distribute the money to property owners. A second amendment would put the casino revenue into the state's local aid account for cities and towns.

Other GOP amendments would repeal recent increases in the state sales tax and the tax on sale of alcohol in stores.

By stalling debate, Republicans said they hoped to bring attention to their amendments.

"Unless something significant changes, this bill will just represent another installment in the unquenchable thirst for additional revenue and spending that this building has exhibited over the last several years," said Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

The delay came after more than five hours of debate on the bill, which would license three resort style casinos across the state.

Supporters say the casinos would bring up to 12,000 jobs and $460 million in revenues to the state.

Critics argue that the social costs that come with casinos, such as increased crime, will outweigh any revenues the state will receive.

The Massachusetts House has already approved a bill that would license two casinos and allow 750 slot machines at each of the state's four racetracks. The Senate shot down a similar racetracks slots amendment.

Gov. Deval Patrick has said he supports resort-style casinos but is opposed to racetrack slots, although he's stopped short of threatening a veto.

During Friday's debate, the Senate worked to hone the bill.

They adopted one amendment barring casinos from marketing to anyone under the age of 21 and a second requiring anyone applying for a casino license to conduct a study on the proposed gaming venue's effect on small businesses.

Senators also voted to bar local councils on aging from using state funds to organize trips to out-of-state casinos once there is a Massachusetts casino. They rejected another amendment that would have required health insurers cover "pathological gambling" as a mandated benefit.

A Republican-sponsored amendment that would have again legalized "happy hours" at local bars was also defeated as was a proposal that would have required casinos shut down every day from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.

But the Senate backed a proposal to toughen the state's wiretapping law to help police and investigators prosecute new crimes created in the bill, including money laundering, enterprise crimes, and swindling and cheating crimes.

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