More amendments added to casino bill

By Krista KanoMetroWest Daily News

Sept. 23, 2011

BOSTON — Three state senators from MetroWest have filed a pile of amendments to a bill that would allow three casinos and a slots parlor in the state, with the legislation expected on the Senate floor Monday.

Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, filed amendments that would increase how much say nearby cities and towns would have in planned casinos.

Sen. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, filed two amendments that would require casinos to hire Massachusetts residents exclusively.

“It’s critical that residents across the state understand this casino bill,” Spilka said yesterday. “I feel that there are some protections in the bill, but I would like to strengthen those safeholds.”

Spilka filed 11 amendments that would increase community participation by including the host city or town, surrounding communities and “substantially impacted” communities, such as those with a major route running through them to a casino site.

Spilka’s amendments would give such towns and cities a voice in a community mitigation commission, which would work directly with a gaming commission to determine community support or opposition to a planned casino.

The amendments would also give an automatic voice to cities and towns within a three-mile radius of a casino, while Eldridge’s amendment increases that radius to five miles.

“That speaks to the fact that there are significant costs when a casino comes to a region – increased traffic,” he said. “We want people to have an increased say in whether or not a casino comes to that region.”

Eldridge also filed an amendment that would prohibit legislators from working for a casino within five years of leaving office.

“I think it’s very important that when you are bringing an industry like casinos to a state, that it’s being done for the right reasons,” he said. “I wouldn’t want the casino industry to be a reason for legislators to leave office and then get jobs there.”

Another Eldridge amendment would require casinos to provide health insurance to their employees. Under Massachusetts law, any business that does not provide health insurance faces a $285 fine per employee. Eldridge is concerned that casinos would accept the fine and not provide insurance.

Fargo was more concerned with who the casinos would hire.

“Casino employees in other states are being laid off, and if they hear about job opportunities here in Massachusetts, they’ll come here and try to get those jobs,” she said. “The whole point of the casinos, according to its proponents, is to create jobs. We’d like to see those jobs reserved for Massachusetts residents.”

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