Expanded gambling seems dead, for now

BRAINTREE -- The prospect of expanded gambling in Massachusetts seems all but dead, at least for this legislative session.

A measure to expand legalized gambling in the state did not become law prior to the conclusion of the formal legislative session that ended July 31. The bill has also resulted in a standoff between Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislature, and has drawn the interest of Patrick's opponents in this year's gubernatorial race.

Ed Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said he is "not jumping up and down," and that he finds "some satisfaction" that the bill does not appear to be moving forward.

Beacon Hill legislators can still convene after the July 31 deadline, but they must meet informally. To do that, Saunders said, they need a two-thirds vote to convene and a two-thirds vote to pass a measure.

"I think the prospects of it becoming law are dim at the moment," Saunders said. "From the comments being made from the leadership, it doesn't appear they are going to go back into session.

Although Senate President Therese Murray, a slot parlor opponent, told the Boston Globe in an Aug. 3 article that she would not call a formal session, Saunders does not even think an informal session would be successful in enacting expanded gambling.

"If the gambling bill comes out of an informal session there is going to be one member to object," he said.

Sen. Susan Tucker (D-Andover) opposes expanded gambling in the state. She said she does not think there will be sufficient legislative support to reconvene. She pointed out that a two-thirds vote is required in both legislative branches to reconvene and discuss the measure.

"I'm pretty optimistic there would not be those numbers to take this up," she said.

Still, she did not say the measure is dead.

"I must say after watching this gambling debate for years, anything can happen," Tucker said. "There's so much money that could be made off the backs of the working people in this area."

"This is like a perennial weed that returns year after year after year," she added.

Tucker anticipates that an expanded gambling measure will again be on the legislative agenda when the branches are expected to convene Jan. 1.

In late July, the state House and Senate both passed an expanded gambling measure that would have authorized three destination resort-style casinos and two slot machine parlors to be bid on by the state's four racetracks. However, Patrick vetoed the legislative measure, instead sending back to Beacon Hill an amended version that does not include slots.

Patrick, who is facing reelection this year, has favored resort-style casinos but opposed slot parlors on the grounds that they do not generate the number of jobs casino proponents claim and result in social ills such as gambling addiction that critics such as the state's Catholic bishops also fear.

The governor also opposes slots because he says that they would favor the interests of a select few people.

"I am not going to be a party to no-bid contracts for track owners," said Patrick at an event where he was endorsed by environmental groups. "We do this over and over again in the commonwealth. Over again, we yield to short-term interests for a few powerful people, and we set aside the long-term best economic and social interests of the commonwealth."

Patrick's opposition on those grounds appeared to take aim at House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), the bill's sponsor who has two casinos -- Suffolk Downs and Wonderland -- in his district.

In a statement, DeLeo accused Patrick of killing 15,000 jobs, said that the two slot parlor licenses would be available to all of the state's racetracks, and rejected Patrick's assertion that the bill would aid the narrow interests of a select small group of people.

Both of Patrick's opponents in the gubernatorial race have also commented on the matter.

Republican Charlie Baker, who favors one casino to test gambling's demand in Massachusetts and backs slot parlors, has questioned Patrick's leadership in passing the bill. However, Baker has said he would veto a measure establishing three casinos. Baker's running mate, State Sen. Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield), voted against the bill.

Independent candidate Tim Cahill, also a member of Patrick's administration as the state treasurer, favors expanded gambling. Cahill accused his boss of placating his Democratic liberal base that opposes slots and abandoning his promise to create jobs amid the current economic recession.