Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

Coakley names N.J. State Police veteran to Mass. gaming board

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

By Neal J. Riley, The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley made her appointment to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission yesterday, selecting a retired New Jersey State Police lieutenant with a history of leading investigations into casino gambling.

Lt. Col. Gayle Cameron, a 28-year state police veteran who supervised an average of 1,500 investigations and 800 arrests per year involving casinos, said at a press conference that the job is a good fit for her.

“I look forward to starting with a clean slate to foster a gaming environment which is secure and robust,” she said.

Legislature rolls the dice on casino gambling

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

By Andrea AldanaThe Patriot Ledger

Posted Nov 16, 2011 @ 03:04 AM
Last update Nov 16, 2011 @ 03:08 AM

BOSTON — South Shore legislators say they hope Tuesday’s passage of a casino bill will pay off in jobs, additional state revenue and the return of Massachusetts gamblers who have left billions of dollars on the tables of other New England casinos.

“This bill wasn’t an issue of should we legalize gambling or not,” said Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree. “Gambling was legalized in ’71 with the establishment of the Lottery Commission. This is about expanded gambling to create jobs and increase revenue.”

The final bill establishes up to three casinos and one slot machine parlor. Casino developers will pay the state at least $85 million in initial licensing fees and promise to invest at least $500 million in each casino resort.
Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, voted for the bill despite his concern about the slot parlor. But he said the bill addressed one of his other concerns: gambling addiction. The bill would require gambling sites to provide free on-site counseling and display information on gambling addiction.

“We have people right now who (gamble) in Connecticut and Rhode Island and they have those same problems of bankruptcy and we don’t have the ability to help them,” Cantwell said.

An amendment to the bill establishes a cooling-off period that would bar public officials who had been involved in gambling legislation from working in the industry for one year after leaving government.

The final bill does not include the “happy hour” provision approved by the Senate on an amendment by Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, but instead requires a two-year study by the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Hedlund’s amendment would have lifted restrictions on happy hours in bars if casinos are allowed to give away drinks for free.

Hedlund and Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, voted against the bill. The Senate passed the final bill 23-14 shortly after the House voted 118-33 for the bill.

Keenan had previously offered an amendment that would have eliminated the slot parlor and limited the number of resort casinos to two.

“Three casinos and one slot parlor oversaturate the market, and the social cost associated with it would outweigh any of the financial benefits,” he said.

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Framingham could win big with casino money

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

By Krista KanoMetroWest Daily News

October 22, 2011

Proponents of a Senate casino amendment that would distribute education funds to some wealthier Massachusetts towns and cities fended off criticism yesterday, saying the plan is only fulfilling goals made by the state in 2006.

That year, the state set a budget formula for all school districts to use, with the state hoping to provide at least 17.5 percent of the money needed to support the budgets. But the state has struggled to make those payments, with 158 of 326 communities considered underfunded this year, when the state came up $113 million short.

The state money was distributed based on need, meaning poor communities received more than cities and towns with higher property tax revenues.

The gambling bill amendment looks to counteract that. Called Strengthening our Schools, the amendment gives underfunded districts priority when the extra money from casino revenue is doled out.

Public schools are due to get 14 percent of casino revenue under the amendment filed by Sen. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, which is now being considered by a conference committee since it was passed by the Senate but not voted on in the House.

“It’s more a matter of equity,” said Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury. “The communities who aren’t receiving any additional aid aren’t because they’re already receiving the promised amount.”

Southborough, for example, has received all of the nearly $3 million it was promised by the state in 2007 and would not get any more under the amendment.

Framingham, the town most significantly underfunded, according the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, would receive the most. There is a $7 million difference between what Framingham was promised and what it received for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

If the amendment becomes law, many high-need districts will not receive more funding because they have already met their target aid, lawmakers said.

The amendment’s many co-sponsors included Sens. James Eldridge, D-Acton, and Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

“People need to be clear that this money would not be available until after the casinos are built and revenue is coming into the state, which would take several years,” Spilka said.

The amendment passed, 34-4, in the Senate, with Sens. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, and Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, dissenting.

“I hope that we will not be making educational policy in this forum,” Jehlen said during debate on the amendment Oct. 11. “I ask that we refer this debate back to the Education Committee so we may do what’s best for all of the children, not just what would benefit our particular communities.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, said she hasn’t made up her mind on the amendment.

“If we start to allocate the money before we even receive it and can see what the actual needs of the communities are, then we may have boxed ourselves into a situation that doesn’t give us flexibility,” she said. “I’m concerned that early education might actually be in a greater need than the communities in this particular amendment.”

The amendment, which does not appear in the House version of the bill, will be discussed in a conference committee of three representatives and three senators. That committee will create a uniform version of the bill to be sent to the House and Senate for a final vote before going to Gov. Deval Patrick.

The House has named Reps. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee, Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, and Paul Frost, R-Auburn, as its committee members. The Senate will announce its representation next week.

Some legislators hoping to fix casino plan

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

By Krista KanoMetroWest Daily News

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.

Some object as Senate passes casino bill

Friday, October 14th, 2011

By Krista KanoMetroWest Daily News

October 14, 2011

Despite the opposition of some local legislators, the state took one more step toward casino gambling when the Senate passed its version of the gambling bill in a 24-14 vote yesterday after six days of debate.

State Sens. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, and Michael Moore, D-Millbury, voted in favor of the bill, while Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, Karen Spilka, D-Ashton, and Susan Fargo, D-Lincoln, held firm in their opposition to casinos.

Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, who last year voted in favor of expanded gambling, voted against the bill because his amendment, which would have denied neighboring communities the power to veto construction of a casino in their area, failed.

“I’m disappointed that we’re now going to move forward with the bill telling people that they can have casinos and giving surrounding communities a veto to prevent exactly what we’re trying to do,” Moore said. “The bill as it is now will not create jobs, will not create revenue, if any community aims to blackmail another. I cannot support this bill in its current form.”

Moore predicted that without his amendment, the location of the three casinos allowed by the legislation will be subject to years of court battles.

“We are putting ourselves in a position of having a procedure that would just not be workable,” he said. “Without it, I don’t see that we will ever get to the final groundbreaking or ribbon-cutting because they’ll be tied up in court or mitigation.”

Eldridge, a longtime opponent of casino legislation, supported amendments that would increase the participation of surrounding communities.

One of his rejected amendments would have guaranteed more participation to communities within a 5-mile radius of a casino site and any community touching the host community, since a casino would also affect the traffic, environment and public safety of those communities.

“A community that may be only a few feet away would not have a voice,” he said. “It’s a basic issue of fairness. There’s been conversation about a voice vs. a vote, but I think at the end of the day the best way to protect our communities is to give them a vote in bringing a casino to their region.”

Eldridge’s amendment was supported by Fargo and Spilka, but the plan failed by a 27-11 vote.

The Senate’s bill allows for three casinos and one slot parlor, an agreement that was previously worked out by Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray.

Now that the Senate has passed the bill, the House and the Senate will form a six-person committee to negotiate a final version of the bill that will include several elements from the version passed by the House on Sept. 16. The final draft will go to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.

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Eldridge amendment sparks contentious casino debate

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

September 28, 2011

BOSTON — A local lawmaker’s push to create a cooling-off period before legislators can be employed by the casino industry led to a heated argument on the Senate floor Tuesday.

In the second day of Senate debate on a bill that would legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts, Sen. Jamie Eldridge proposed an amendment that would have prohibited legislators from getting a job with any gambling business for five years after leaving office.

Eldridge, the Acton Democrat, who represents Shirley, said this measure is crucial to prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, but some senators argued that lawmakers would take advantage of their position if no restrictions were in place, leading to increased cynicism among voters.

“One of the problems we have as legislators is to improve the perception of us without throwing ourselves and our colleagues and the government and democracy under the bus,” said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

Eldridge said a cooling-off period would keep the public from thinking legislators sought to profit from the legalization of casinos.

“This is an economic development bill for the people of the commonwealth,” he said. “This is not an economic development bill for legislators.”

Some senators said that although they support the idea of a cooling-off period, they took offense at Eldridge’s reasoning.

“To have an implication that we are not people of intelligence, integrity and commitment troubles me deeply,” said Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, dismissed Eldridge’s amendment as “just plain wrong-thinking,” though she later voted in favor of a modified version of the amendment.

Eldridge said the problem he was looking to solve was not a lack of integrity within the Legislature, but a lack of public faith.

“I know that each of us works hard each and every day, but the problem is the perception,” he said.

After about 20 minutes of passionate debate, Senate President Therese Murray called for a closed Democratic caucus, in which the limit on legislators taking gambling-industry jobs was reduced to one year from the original five years.

The redrafted amendment passed on a roll-call vote of 36-1, with Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, voting against it. Changes to the amendment were not read before the vote.

The Senate rejected three other Eldridge amendments, including one that would have created a similar cooling-off period for gaming-commission members and one that would have required casinos to provide their employees with health-care benefits.

Debate on the gambling bill will resume Tuesday.

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Tensions rise as Senate debates casino amendments

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

By Krista KanoMetroWest Daily News

September 28, 2011

Tempers erupted on the second day of the casino debate as senators argued over an amendment proposed by a local lawmaker that would prohibit legislators from working for a casino within five years of leaving office.

After some heated exchanges, Senate leaders went into recess. They returned and – without discussion – quickly voted to shorten the ban to one year.

“We need to make it clear that this is a bill for the commonwealth of Massachusetts and not for the legislators,” Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, said before the vote.

Eldridge, who proposed the five-year restriction, was met with strong opposition from fellow Democrats Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and Sen. Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham.

“I’ve worked here for 34 years, and 98 percent of the people I’ve worked with have been honest people,” said Brewer, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Directing his growing anger at Eldridge, he repeated himself, his voice getting louder as he stressed each word.

“To have the implication, to have the implication, to have the implication that we are not people of intelligence, integrity and commitment, I resent and reject that implication,” he said.

Eldridge assured Brewer that his amendment was not meant to call into question the integrity of fellow legislators.

“We have to recognize that there is cynicism among the electorate,” he said. “This is a legitimate step we can take towards more transparency. The problem, I think, is perception.”

Rosenberg stressed his own consistency in voting for bills that promote transparency.

“When we take actions that are driven by the perception and not the reality, we contribute to the cynicism,” he said. “If we ourselves stand up and say that the only way to protect integrity is to prevent us from doing something, we lose our integrity.”

Candaras also opposed the amendment, saying it adds to the trouble legislators face when moving into the private sector.

“What industry is next?” she said. “If we work with green technologies, can we not work with green technologies for five years? Where does it end? We have the strictest ethics laws in the United States of America.”

Senate President Teresa Murray called a recess to allow Democrats to caucus. When they returned, Murray announced that the amendment had been redrafted and, with no explanation of the new draft, began the vote.

The amendment passed 36-1, with Eldridge, Brewer, Candaras and Rosenberg all voting for the amendment and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, dissenting.

Murray’s office later sent out a press release explaining that the redraft reduced the ban on casino jobs for legislators to one year from the original five years.

After the vote, Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, questioned the procedures but was overruled by Murray, who said the roll call was already ordered on the amendment.

Hedlund argued that the roll call had been taken on the amendment but not on the redraft. After a short discussion, the redrafted amendment remained passed and the Senate went on to other amendments, including another of Eldridge’s that would have required casinos to provide health insurance. That amendment failed.

Local pols stake out ground in gambling debate in state Senate

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Sep. 26, 2011

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.

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More amendments added to casino bill

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

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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Sen. Wolf boosts tribes’ casino hand

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

By Marjorie NesinCape Cod Times

September 22, 2011

BOSTON — A Cape Cod lawmaker has filed an amendment to the state Senate’s gambling bill that is designed to speed the process for recognized Indian tribes seeking to build one of the three proposed casinos.

State Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich, filed an amendment Wednesday requiring the state to respond quickly to casino applications from Massachusetts’ only two federally recognized tribes.

But he plans to vote against expanded gambling for the state.

“I am going to be voting against the bill, but there’s a good chance this bill is going to go forward … so I’m filing amendments to make sure that if the bill does go forward it’s as fair and as good a bill as possible for the tribes and for the other people in our region,” Wolf said in a telephone interview with the Times.

Last week, the House passed expanded gambling legislation that would allow a slot parlor and three resort-style casinos in three regions of Massachusetts. Under the legislation, only one of the resort-style casinos could be a tribe casino.

The House gambling bill already includes an amendment filed by state Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable, on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that eliminates a deadline for casino negotiations between tribes and the state.

Wolf said his amendment followed on Atsalis’ efforts.

Wolf’s amendment would require the governor to enter into negotiations with a tribe within 14 days of receiving notice that the tribe had obtained land to build a casino. A casino agreement would then go to the Legislature, which would have 30 days to approve or deny the application.

“In a way, (the amendment) protects the tribes, but really it’s a way to make the process more understandable and more predictable,” said Wolf, who sees his amendment as a way to help the tribes plan their proposals.

The gambling legislation allows for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to negotiate an agreement with the state that would include Indian casino payments in lieu of taxes.

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah tribal council, welcomed Wolf’s amendment as long as it still allowed fair competition between the tribes.

“Time frames are typically a good beginning, provided it doesn’t close any doors or attempt to pit the tribes against each other,” she said.

The Senate is set to vote on the casino legislation, including Wolf’s amendment, on Monday.

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