Brown pressed Senate leader on slots
A long-held position, but one that benefits a friend and contributor
Senator Scott Brown has lobbied both Governor Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray to legalize slot machines at the state’s race tracks, according to the governor and a legislative official on Beacon Hill, advocacy that would benefit a longtime Brown friend and campaign donor.
Brown called Murray in April, shortly after the House passed a bill allowing slots at the race tracks, to voice his support and suggested that the Legislature authorize 1,500 slot machines at each track, according to a legislative official familiar with the call.
As a state senator, Brown was a strong advocate for Plainridge Racecourse, whose owner, Gary Piontkowski, has given, with family, $3,250 to Brown’s political campaigns since 2003, who attended Brown’s swearing-in as a senator, and who co-owned a horse with Brown’s daughter.
Murray was “shocked when he raised the subject, but did not respond,’’ said the official, who asked for anonymity in sharing a private discussion.
Murray, through her office, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Brown, Gail Gitcho, said she could not confirm the phone call with Murray, but said Brown has spo ken to several Massachusetts officials about the issue “because jobs are everyone’s concern.’’
Piontkowski said Brown’s past and current support for the racing industry is logical, given how many jobs it provides in his former state Senate district, where the track is situated, and the rest of the state he now represents in Washington. Despite the close friendship that has developed over a dozen years, Brown has long been his own man, Piontkowski said.
“I’ve never asked him to intercede or do anything in that regard,’’ Piontkowski said.
Patrick said yesterday that Brown brought up slot machines at the race tracks during a recent meeting to discuss a key piece of federal funding Brown has been blocking.
Patrick had been hoping to gain Brown’s support for allowing a vote in the US Senate that would give Massachusetts nearly $700 million in Medicaid money to fortify the state budget. Brown has been a key senator in preventing a vote, upholding a Republican-led filibuster, because of concerns about the federal deficit. He has proposed an alternative measure.
“In that same meeting, he repeated what I think everybody knows to be the case, which is support for slots at the tracks,’’ Patrick told reporters yesterday. “But one as a condition for the other? No, that was not the nature of the conversation.’’
The meeting, also attended by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, was first reported Thursday by Globe columnist Joan Vennochi.
Brown, Gitcho said, “speaks to Governor Patrick often in regard to many issues that affect Massachusetts, Especially when it comes to job creation and the economy.’’
Gitcho also said that slot machines at the tracks would benefit more than one racetrack and that Brown’s daughter’s former financial relationship with Piontkowski was not a factor in his support.
Brown’s daughter, Arianna, had co-owned an 8-year-old trotter named Sugar Free with Piontkowski. The track owner said the horse, purchased in 2008, has since been given away to a breeder in upstate New York.
“Arianna is a young woman who loves horses and her interest in the horse — she owned it — was fully disclosed under state financial disclosure laws,’’ Gitcho said.
Piontkowski said that he had a “cheap trotter’’ horse for sale and that Arianna Brown paid half of the $3,000 asking price for a 50 percent stake. She came to the stable frequently to groom it and pick its hooves, he said. The horse earned $18,000 in winnings, but after training and other upkeep fees, it was “almost a break-even proposition.’’
Brown has long advocated for slot machines at the racetracks, introducing measures to legalize them more than once in his tenure as a state senator, visiting a dog track in Rhode Island that added slot machines, and speaking out on their potential economic benefits of the industry.
“He was always involved, as every senator and representative that has a race track in his district is,’’ Piontkowski said. “If there’s jobs, there’s jobs and you’ve got to represent those.’’
Patrick and Murray strongly oppose a plan advocated by DeLeo, which would allow the state’s four racetracks to get as many as 750 slot machines each. The issue is being hammered out in a House and Senate conference committee on a bill to expand gambling.
A House-approved bill would license two resort-style casinos, in addition to the slots for the race tracks. The Senate version, which Patrick prefers, would create three casinos and no slots.
Advocates of expanded gambling are eagerly waiting and lobbying the Legislature to move on the issue. Lawmakers end their formal session July 31, after which no major or controversial legislation is typically taken up.