Some legislators hoping to fix casino plan
October 15, 2011
Whether they voted for or against the state Senate’s casino bill, area lawmakers said they are hopeful the legislation can be improved before it reaches Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
The bill, which passed the Senate 24-14 on Thursday, will soon make its way to a six-person conference committee. That group’s task is to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions.
Both bills create three resort-style casinos and one slot parlor. The two versions differ on details about community involvement and regulation of the casinos.
Opponents, including Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, will take their fight to modify the bill to the committee.
“What we, the opponents, are doing now is to put together a list of the high priorities – consumer protection, community mitigation and transparency language – that are in the Senate bill and trying to make sure they remain in the final conference committee bill,” Eldridge said yesterday.
Eldridge was able to get four amendments into the Senate’s final bill. They include provisions that prohibit legislators from working for a casino for one year after leaving office and that would bar casino executives from giving campaign donations to officials with direct or indirect oversight of casino negotiations.
The others require casinos to send a monthly statement to customers detailing how much money they lost, and to provide funds to ease the effects casinos will have on roads and other infrastructure to regions, not just municipalities.
“I feel that the community mitigation and the transparency make a really bad bill a little less worse,” he said. “So there are very slight improvements, but I think it is a massively flawed bill, and I think it will be very bad for the people of Massachusetts.”
Fellow casino opponents Sens. Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, and Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, also submitted successful amendments.
Spilka submitted 11 amendments about increasing surrounding communities’ participation, five of which were attached to the legislation.
Fargo’s amendments include one that requires casinos to submit reports on the gender and race of employees, and another aimed at ensuring voters are informed about the casino proposal for their district by requiring public hearings before an election and more specific language on the ballot.
Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, also voted against the bill after the Senate voted down his “good faith” amendment, which would have allowed the gambling commission to negotiate with a nearby community that could not reach an agreement with a host community. A similar amendment, submitted by Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, was passed in the House and may be in the final bill.
Other senators said they were generally pleased with the progress the bill made over the six days of debate.
Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, said she feels the Senate’s experience debating casinos over the past three sessions improved the bill.
“All but nine or 10 people had already debated a casino bill before, and I think that we tried to improve upon last year’s bill. I think we did the best job we could,” she said. “Hopefully the conference committee will iron out those differences and we’ll get a better bill.”
Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, voted for the proposal even though he said he would have preferred a plan to issue one casino license as a test before granting a second or third license.
Moore said he felt that the approved amendments improved the bill, including the “happy hour” amendment that would allow restaurants and bars in the state to once again offer discounted drinks, giving establishments near casinos the chance to compete with free or inexpensive drinks offered at casinos.
“This legislation will hopefully create 10,000 to 15,000 jobs and provide more opportunities to broaden our economic base and provide the opportunity for more individuals to get back to work,” he said.