By Ken Davison
The Massachusetts House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation tonight that calls for two casinos to be built and the installation of up to 750 slot machines at the state's four racetracks.
The bill, passed by a veto-proof margin of 120 to 37, still needs Senate approval before it is presented to Governor Deval Patrick for his signature. Both Gov. Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray have indicated that they do not support slot machines at racetracks. House Speaker Robert Deleo's district includes two racetracks.
Today's vote shows the dramatic change in how casino gambling and the revenue it could bring to the state is perceived since a three-casino proposal, supported by Gov. Patrick, was defeated by a vote of 108 to 46 two years ago.
The appeal of casino gambling to legislators is its ability to create thousands of jobs while also generating millions of dollars for the state.
Each of the two casinos will be expected to pay a $100 million up-front license fee and a 25 percent tax on its revenues. Additionally, the bill requires each of the two casinos to spend at least $500 million on each casino.
It is possible that the two federally-recoginized Indian tribes in Massachusetts could also build casinos someday under federal laws which, in addition to the two casinos in the House bill, would mean four casinos in the state. The prospects for tribal casinos are on hold for the time being as a result of the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Carcieri v. Salazar case that has stopped the federal government, in most cases, from taking land into trust for Indian tribes that were federally recognized after 1934.
There hasn't been any significant movement in Congress to approve legislation that would overturn the Supreme Court decision, which could prompt the two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts to bid on any future commercial casino licenses.
It is estimated that about $1 billion is spent by Massachusetts residents annually at the two Indian casinos in Connecticut and the Twin River slot parlor-racetrack in Rhode Island. About 20 percent of Mohegan Sun's customers are estimated to live in Massachusetts while about one-third of Foxwoods' customers are Massachusetts residents.
Among the changes to the House bill that were voted down yesterday was a proposed amendment that would have required one of the two casinos to be built in Western Massachusetts. The Mohegan Tribe is part of a group that seeks to build a casino in Western Masachusetts, in the city of Palmer.
While it is still possible that one of the casinos could end up in Western Massachusetts, the proposed amendment requiring Western Massachusetts to be the location for one of the two casinos proposed under the House bill was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 136 to 17.
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