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House defeats Patrick's casino gambling proposal

Associated Press | 2/5/2009, 7:33 a.m.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to license three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts is dead — at least for this year.

After an impassioned, six-hour debate, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 106-48 last Wednesday to send the bill to a study committee, effectively defeating it and ensuring it could not come back up for debate until next year at the earliest.

The defeat came despite a series of last-ditch efforts by supporters to salvage the gambling proposal. But House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and his fellow opponents repeatedly blocked delays in the final vote or efforts to reshape the measure with amendments.

The vote was a key defeat for Patrick, but also put pressure on House leaders to come up with an alternative plan to generate desperately needed state revenues.

Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan issued a statement last Thursday saying the governor thanked lawmakers who supported the casino bill and looked forward to working with House and Senate leaders to “push our comprehensive jobs creation and economic development agenda.”

DiMasi issued his own statement, saying that “the big money special interests lost and the people of Massachusetts won.”

“Members of the House withstood incredible pressure from the deep-pocketed gambling industry, unions and the governor’s office,” he said. “The cost of creating a casino culture is too high.”

The legislation called for licensing three so-called destination casinos in different regions of Massachusetts, which the governor said would create $600 million in licensing fees, $400 million in annual tax revenues and 20,000 permanent jobs.

DiMasi argued expanded gambling would drain revenues from other businesses and increase personal bankruptcies, petty crimes and other social ills.

Last Wednesday, the Boston Democrat engineered a 10-8 committee vote against the measure that members expected would turn out to be far closer than the final vote against the bill.

“I feel, Mr. Speaker, and my friends and colleagues in this chamber, we have not given this bill due process. We have not given this bill a fair hearing,” said state Rep. Martin Walsh, D-Boston. “I think that we owe it to the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts … to take more time, through the committee process, to look at this legislation.”

DiMasi threw down his gavel, telling Walsh his allotted speaking time had expired. He then recognized state Rep. Angelo Scaccia, D-Boston, who favored a final vote to kill the measure.

“We all know what our place is on this issue; we don’t need to delay it. In fact, Mr. Speaker, our governor does not want it delayed. This issue is ripe. In fact, it’s overripe. We should take up this issue today,” Scaccia said.

The motion to send the bill back to committee was defeated by a margin of 111-41.

Throughout the debate, acrimony was apparent.

State Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, was repeatedly interrupted with questions as he tried to explain his reasons for opposing the bill. Bosley is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, which recommended defeating the legislation.

Bosley disputed the notion that casino gambling was inevitable even as the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe seeks to build a casino in Middleborough, and said that allowing the proposed three casinos would inevitably create the prospect of additional casinos as the state chased future revenues.

“Once you do it and you have it, you will find more and more and more as you go along,” Bosley said.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Boston, said supporting gambling was inconsistent with the state’s pursuit of more stable jobs and revenues from life sciences company. He also said the resort casinos would detract from the state’s traditional tourist attractions.

“I do not see this legislation as a successful proposal,” Sanchez said. “I see it as the beginning for a race for gambling dollars that no one will win, and a false promise to our cities and towns for undependable and unsustainable revenues that do not make sense as economic development.”

State Rep. Thomas J. Calter III, D-Kingston, a newly elected member, used the occasion of his first speech on the House floor to split with DiMasi, the chamber’s powerful leader.

He said casino gambling was inevitable and because of that, the state should set the rules through the commercial licensing process. If it doesn’t, the Wampanoag tribe will be exempt from many state regulations through federal Indian gaming laws.

“The Mashpee Wampanoags, to their credit, have not said we don’t care. They’re working as hard as they can to be good neighbors. But the law is the law. And that’s what we’re allowing by turning our backs on this bill,” Calter said. “We’re allowing them to walk into this state, take control of the gaming industry, meet the demand that our consumers have and then lock us out if four, three years from now, we get that [point] and we just try to take that back.”

State Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, said the casino plan would prey on those addicted to the rush of gambling.

“The proposal we are considering, if were to come to pass, would increase tremendously the problem of addiction in our commonwealth,” she said. “It wouldn’t just increase the problem of addiction, it actually exploits the problem of addiction.”

Robert Haynes, Massachusetts president of the AFL-CIO and a supporter of the bill, spoke with reporters after the vote.

“I’m profoundly disappointed in the vote and I’m profoundly disappointed in the process,” he said. “We need jobs.”

Two lawmakers — Richard J. Ross, R-Wrentham and Elizabeth A. Poirier, R-North Attleboro — indicated after the vote that they had intended to vote “yes” instead of “no.”

Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)