September 17, 2011
BOSTON —Sen. James Eldridge will vote against the state’s casino legislation when it comes to the Senate in 10 days, but he said he plans to offer a series of amendments to make what he thinks is a bad bill a better deal for the state.
Eldridge, an Acton Democrat who is one of the Legislature’s most vocal opponents of casino gambling, said he will propose an amendment to provide funding to communities having problems caused by nearby casinos.
He also plans to add one that would prevent conflicts of interest between government officials and casino operators.
“I’m planning to file a number of amendments at the very least to make it better, but I will be voting against the final bill,” he said.
In Wednesday’s House session, Rep. Matt Beaton, R-Shrewbury, also had his reservations, saying he was on the fence almost until the end. He said voted against the bill after listening to opponents from his district.
His concerns include creating another government agency independent of the Legislature, casino studies he said were done by partisan organizations, and short-term incentives to create casinos overpowering consideration of their long-term costs.
Beaton was one of 32 representatives to vote against the bill, which passed the House with 123 votes.
Yesterday, Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, offered clarification on an amendment he secured during the House debate over the bill.
While the proposed legislation raised the possibility of a new gambling commission getting involved in negotiations between casino developers and surrounding communities, Fernandes said the bill only allowed the commission to facilitate a deal and did not sanction the group to forcibly break stalemates.
“What the bill does not do is provide a relief valve,” he said of the initial House version.
Under Fernandes’ successful amendment, developers would submit their most recent negotiating stances to the commission, which could then impose the terms, offer alternative provisions or tack on additional requirements to address the worries of neighboring communities.
With leaders in towns such as Hopkinton and Holliston already speaking out against a proposal for a casino in Fernandes’ hometown, he said his amendment ensures that negotiations will take place in good faith and not be scuttled by towns locked in opposition regardless of offered compromises.
Hopkinton and Holliston are both represented by Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, who voted against the casino bill and unsuccessfully sought two changes. One change would have automatically designated cities and towns within two miles of a casino as surrounding communities that could get perks from casino profits. The other amendment would give a referendum to those municipalities with housing inside the zone.
Yesterday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 13-3 for a bill that is a near replica of the version passed by the House.
Senators now have eight days to file amendments leading up to the Sept. 26 scheduled Senate debate on the bill.
Eldridge said he will spend the time trying to organize against the legislation.
“It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle getting ready for the debate and reaching out to the colleagues about why expanded gambling will be bad for Massachusetts,” he said. “There are plenty of senators who don’t like three casinos or slot machines, and those are the senators we’re going to be reaching out to right up until the debate.”