Local pols stake out ground in gambling debate in state Senate
BOSTON —Senate President Therese Murray says she has the votes to pass the casino bill, but the debate could take weeks and several local legislators hope to make their mark on the final product.
Local legislators are ready to deal in the debate over casinos and slots as the state Senate today begins sorting through 182 proposed changes to the bill.
Among the skeptics of the plan to build three casinos and a slots parlor is state Sen. John F. Keenan, D-Quincy, who has filed 27 amendments, including one that would limit the number of casinos to two and take the slots parlor out of the equation.
Among the strongest supporters of the bill is state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, who wants to allow slot machines in the international terminals at Logan Airport.
Another supporter, state Sen. Thomas P. Kennedy, D-Brockton, said the issue comes down to jobs.
“To me, it’s local,” he said. He favors allowing slot machines at Raynham Park, which used to be a bustling dog racing venue and now simulcasts greyhound and horse racing.
State Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, voted against the gambling bill last year and counted himself among the skeptics this year but says he is keeping an open mind.
He co-sponsored an amendment that would allow for the licensing of one casino now and another in seven years. He and Keenan also filed amendments aimed at funneling state revenues from new gambling to general funds rather than targeted constituencies such as Suffolk Downs, which is a favorite of House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Hedlund signed on to about 40 amendments to the gambling bill, almost all of them with support from Democrats.
“I want to see that we don’t leave things vague in this bill,” he said.
Keenan said he has yet to decide how he will vote. “It depends on how the debate goes,” he said.
The freshman legislator said he has several concerns with the bill approved by the House, 123-32, earlier this month.
He wants the five-member gaming commission created under the bill to be subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law and to undergo an independent review of its budget each year. He also wants to ban felons from owning a casino.
Heading into the start of what could be weeks-long debate , the state Senate’s approval of expanded gambling already appeared a foregone conclusion.
Murray, D-Plymouth, has said that she has the votes to approve the bill and send it back to the House for compromise negotiations. And, unlike last year, she and DeLeo, D-Winthrop, have Gov. Deval Patrick’s backing on this gambling plan.
“It’s about as well-written as a casino-gambling bill can be,” said state Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton. “I plan on voting yes, but recognize it is not the cure to all that ails us.”
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.