Baker critical of multiple casino plans.
BOSTON - Republican candidate for governor Charles D. Baker Jr. yesterday said he is "very worried" by the Senate plan for three casinos and that "jumping whole hog" into expanded gambling with so many casinos could end up hurting existing restaurants, hotels and entertainment businesses around the state.
Mr. Baker, who has largely stayed out of the casino debate in recent months, said he believes allowing one casino only would enable the state to "field test" the casino industry and avoid possible economic harm caused by a larger expansion of gaming.
"I'm more worried about the unintended consequences on existing business," Mr. Baker said.
"We do not know what the impact of having that many casinos and all the rest is going to mean for all the existing venues, hospitality entertainment and retail that we already have all over Massachusetts," Mr. Baker said. "It could be very significant. Again, which is why I think one would have been the right way to go."
While Gov. Deval L. Patrick favors three casinos and no slots at racetracks, independent candidate Timothy P. Cahill supports three casinos and four so-called racinos, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein opposes expanded gaming.
Mr. Baker bemoaned the extended debate going on over expanded gambling, saying the Senate would be better off "spending eight or nine days" debating other issues affecting business, than how many casinos the state needs or whether smoking should be allowed if they are built.
Mr. Baker said he is also concerned about cultural impacts. "This is a significant change in sort of what Massachusetts is, what kind of state it is. I've said all along I think there should be one casino. I think one casino gives us the ability to field test this and see how it goes," Mr. Baker said.
"This is not economic development," he said, and a greater need is to create a predictable climate for investment. "I worry a lot about the impact of jumping whole hog into this at the expense of other things I think we could be doing to improve our economy.
"That's going to be a big distraction," from more pressing issues, including what he says will be a $2 billion budget deficit facing the next governor. "I would rather see people focusing on what are we going to do to reform state government, deal with that 2 billion nut that is going to land on the desk of the next governor next year, instead of dealing with this," Mr. Baker said.
He also took exception to Senate changes that would allow a host community vote for a casino by only the ward in which it would be located, in cities with populations over 125,000. The Senate bill currently would only allow town or citywide host community referenda in smaller communities.
"I think communities ought to be allowed to vote on whether or not they want to have a casino because I do think it will have a significant impact on the communities where one gets located," he said.
CUTLINE: Mr. Baker