Friday, April 2, 2010

Massachusetts Lawmaker Lays Out Details Of His Gambling Proposal

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media is an article in The Day newspaper on the Massachusetts House Speaker's gambling proposal for that state.

Massachusetts gaming bill could bring state hundreds of millions
By Brian Hallenbeck
The Day
April 2, 2010

House speaker unveils plan to allow two casinos and slots at racetracks

Boston - Mohegan Sun would have to pay an up-front licensing fee of $100 million and commit to a capital investment of at least $500 million more if it were chosen to develop a resort casino in Massachusetts, under a bill introduced Thursday by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The state would also claim 25 percent of the casino's gaming revenues.

Casting the measure as a "jobs bill," DeLeo for the first time provided details of his plan to authorize two resort casinos and up to 750 slot machines at each of four existing racetracks in eastern Massachusetts. He said the legislation would create 15,000 to 18,000 permanent jobs and generate between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion a year for the cash-strapped state.

Surrounded by fellow lawmakers, business leaders and union tradesmen at a State House press conference, DeLeo, a Democrat from Winthrop, said it was high time Massachusetts competed with neighboring states that have long since embraced casino-style gambling.

"Much of the revenue being gambled in other (New England) states comes from Massachusetts," he said. "I have an obligation to keep that revenue in Massachusetts. No longer can we afford to let that revenue escape."

Just this week, a UMass Dartmouth study reported that more than a third of Foxwoods Resort Casino's patrons are Massachusetts residents, as are nearly a fifth of Mohegan Sun's. Almost half of those who visit Twin River, the Lincoln, R.I., "racino," are Bay Staters.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which operates Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, has been positioning itself for more than a year to vie for a gaming license in the event Massachusetts approves casinos. In 2008, it secured an option on a 152-acre site in Palmer, in the western part of the state.

While the authority originally intended to invest more than $1 billion in the project, it's believed economic conditions have forced it to scale back its plans.

"We applaud Speaker DeLeo for his efforts to move this initiative forward,'' Jeffrey Hartmann, the authority's chief operating officer, said in a statement issued after DeLeo's press conference. "This establishes a framework for gaming in Massachusetts and the creation of jobs and new revenues for western Massachusetts and the entire Commonwealth.

"We look forward to the opportunity to compete for a destination casino license, and to further demonstrate why Palmer is the premier site in Massachusetts."

Paul Burns, president of the Palmer Town Council, also registered support for DeLeo's bill, noting that unemployment has reached "historic highs" in towns near Palmer, ranging between 12 and 14 percent.

"Without a Western Mass Casino many of the gambling dollars that flow to Connecticut will continue to do so," Burns said in a statement. "A Palmer casino ensures that we capture as much revenue as possible, revenue that currently leaves Massachusetts and only enriches casino operators to our south, drawing jobs and opportunity away as well."

DeLeo introduced state Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, co-chairman of the legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, as the chief architect of the bill. Dempsey said lawmakers avoided specifying geographic zones for the two resort casinos, preferring "to let the gaming entities tell us where they should go."

In setting the licensing fees and levels of capital investment, lawmakers were careful not to "overreach," Dempsey said.

While developers who bid on the resort casino licenses would have to commit to the $100 million up-front fee and a capital investment of at least $500 million, each of the racetrack operators would have to pay $15 million up front and invest $75 million. The licensing fees alone would provide the state with $260 million.

Adding slot machines to the racetracks would save more than 600 jobs that are now in jeopardy and create additional ones, DeLeo said.

Following DeLeo's press conference, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, repeated his opposition to slots at the tracks but stopped short of saying he would veto DeLeo's bill if the legislature approves it.

The legislation also calls for the creation of a Massachusetts Gaming Commission that would have investigative and enforcement authority.