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Patrick senses casino support building despite jobs dispute

Glen Johnson

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi criticized Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino gambling proposal on Monday, just hours after the governor said he sensed building legislative support despite a dispute about the number of construction jobs it would create.

“The governor clearly has the burden of convincing the Legislature that this casino plan should be adopted. So far, the case has not been made, the evidence isn’t there and the governor’s arguments for casinos are clearly losing credibility,” DiMasi said.

His statement was issued less than an hour before the Boston Democrat was to sit down with Patrick for their weekly State House leadership meeting.

After that meeting, the governor said: “I think he is making a lot of noises that sound like he has made up his own mind, but there are a lot of other members in the body. They are entitled to a point of view.”

Patrick began the day by jokingly telling union members they should lock the door and twist the arms of the dozens of lawmakers attending the annual Greater Boston Labor Council Breakfast.

“The fact is, we have to pay attention to jobs at every strata,” he said. Patrick argues the middle-income jobs at casinos would add to the higher-paying jobs he is trying to create with a $1 billion life sciences initiative.

The governor also told reporters he felt he was making inroads with skeptical lawmakers.

“I think we are definitely making progress, and I think that we’ll get the most concrete results as we’re beginning to come to an actual hearing and then a vote,” he said.

The first of those hearings is slated for later this month.

Last October, Patrick proposed licensing three casinos across Massachusetts to generate state funds and jobs and to keep at home some of the estimated $1.1 billion that residents spend each year at gambling sites in Connecticut and Rhode Island. DiMasi has been among his chief critics.

A Boston Globe report over the weekend questioned the 30,000 building jobs Patrick says his proposal would create. The story said the administration simply took the 10,000-job figure estimate offered one proposed casino developer, Suffolk Downs in East Boston, and multiplied it by three to approximate the number of jobs the overall proposal would create.

The governor has repeatedly said the figures used in his proposal are “conservative” estimates rooted in solid research, but DiMasi labeled the extrapolation “absurd.”

Patrick told reporters: “I can tell you, whatever that number is, it beats the opposition, which is at zero.”

He added: “I don’t think there is any dispute about the 20,000 permanent jobs.”

DiMasi said in his statement: “As of today, it seems like we have a proposal where no tough questions were even asked, let alone answered. The Massachusetts Legislature has made significant investments in sustainable economic development in recent years, from the film industry to life sciences, and those investments will pay off with real, good-paying jobs.”

The governor also got an earful from Rich Rogers, an official at the Greater Boston Labor Council. Rogers criticized Patrick for proposing to raise the percentage contribution state workers pay for their health care.

The governor nodded and said later he expected the criticism on behalf of the workers.

Patrick made his pitch for expanded gambling before a skeptical audience last Friday, telling representatives of the state’s tourism industry his plan to build three resort casinos would boost customer traffic across Massachusetts, not damage business at traditional venues as they fear.

The governor also prodded his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature, saying delays in acting on the bill will not forestall the inevitable arrival of casino gambling on Indian tribal lands but may prevent the state from implementing the controls and deriving the tax benefits outlined in his legislation.

“One of the points we’ve been making to our partners in the Legislature is we can either help set the rules or we can have this done to us, but one way or another, it’s coming,” Patrick told the annual Massachusetts Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism.

Patrick argued that casinos would create permanent construction jobs, replace revenue lost through sagging Lottery sales and capture some of the estimated $1.1 billion Massachusetts residents spend annually at casinos in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“Bringing even a portion of that activity to Massachusetts can help spawn new activity, broader activity, for this industry,” he said.

Responding to a question from a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe, which continues to seek federal approval for a casino license on tribal land while mulling a bid for a casino license, Patrick said such twin tracks are “entirely reasonable.”

He added: “I think there are some incentives why we can work together on this, but the tribe is moving ahead, I think quite reasonably, because nothing’s happening, or little is happening, on the resort casino bill.”

(Associated Press)