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Patrick outlines casinos; $450M for roads, tax relief vowed.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Gov. Deval L. Patrick yesterday laid out his plans to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts, proposing three resort-style gambling casinos and promising to dedicate up to $450 million in annual state revenues to rebuilding roads and bridges and local property tax relief.

The governor said he would limit the casinos to one in Southeastern Massachusetts, one in Western Massachusetts and one in Boston or north of Boston. He said he expected they would create more than 20,000 jobs and billions in state tax revenue.

Half the revenues, he said, would be dedicated to direct property tax credits to low- and moderate-income homeowners while he argued that economic expansion from casinos would help pay for health care programs and better public safety.

The plan, if adopted by the Legislature as proposed, would mean no casinos would be built in Central Massachusetts. So far, however, House leaders are saying they are not convinced casinos should be allowed in Massachusetts.

The governor outlined a series of safeguards to regulate casino operations, protect surrounding communities from impacts and hold the state lottery "harmless" by using casino income to offset any drop in lottery gambling. He also said he would oppose any effort to develop "racinos" that would have slot machines installed at race tracks.

Under the casino plan, the state would establish a new gaming commission to oversee casino operations and a new enforcement division would be placed within the office of the attorney general. Mr. Patrick said some revenues would be dedicated to treatment of compulsive gamblers, drug addicts and alcoholics to address potential social ills that could arise from gambling operations and a separate fund would be set up to mitigate impacts of casinos on host communities and neighboring cities and towns.

The governor said the state would have casino developers compete for bids for the licenses and did not guarantee any would be reserved for American Indian tribes, including Mashpee Wampanoags who were recently recognized by the federal government and are planning a casino development in Middleboro.

Private casino developers are proposing casinos in Palmer and at Suffolk Downs on the Boston-Revere border. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. has said it wants to build a casino in the Marlboro area, which would not lie within the designated casino areas designated in the governor's proposal.

Mr. Patrick said he expects to give "special weight" to bids filed by American Indian tribes including the Wampanoags, and said he hopes that "at least one will have a Native American component."

While the proposal would give Massachusetts more casinos than any other state on the East Coast outside of New Jersey's Atlantic City, Mr. Patrick said he will require the casinos to provide entertainment and other amenities such as golf courses, in addition to full casino gambling, in the hope of drawing national and international tourists.

"I'm not just interested in the gambling halls," Mr. Patrick said, but in the hotels and other recreational amenities that could be developed at casinos to create broader economic development scenarios.

"I'm not looking to, or interested in, turning Massachusetts into Las Vegas," he said, adding that his review of impacts in other states led him to believe that destination casinos would enhance the existing tourism business in the state, not drain funds from it.

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, however, raised doubts within hours of the governor's announcement about whether the Legislature would go along with the plans, reiterating his opposition to expanded gambling, but saying he would listen to the governor's proposal to give him a chance to convince him it would be good for Massachusetts.

Legislation which the governor has yet to file to allow expanded gambling would have to be approved by the House, which has blocked previous proposals for expanded gambling and the Senate, where Senate President Therese Murray has indicated she may favor opening the state to casinos.

"As I stand here today, I am opposed," Mr. DiMasi said on the way into an afternoon meeting to discuss the plans with the governor. He said he will give the plan consideration and weigh the pros and cons to decide whether the state "should proceed down this path."

Mr. DiMasi said he would have Economic Development Committee Chairman Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, and other committee chairmen analyze the proposals and reiterated concerns voiced by Mr. Bosley over the

weekend that the revenues the governor is counting on from casinos are "illusory" and "not real."

Mr. Bosley, one of the most vocal opponents of expanded gambling in the state, said he is disappointed in the governor for proposing three casinos, and said they would bring the state more harm than good.

Mr. DiMasi recounted his past opposition to expanded gambling, adding, "My position hasn't changed at this time." He said however he wants to take a look at the plans and decide whether casinos would be good or bad for the state. He said a major concern is whether casinos would clash with the state's image, which draws tourists because of its coastal scenery and historic attractions.

The speaker said he will evaluate "whether we want to accept the casino culture in Massachusetts."

He said some House members "have very good reasons to oppose it," including doubts over whether the revenues claimed by the governor "are real."

Mr. Patrick yesterday publicly released a four-inch-thick stack of studies, including reviews of other states' experiences with casinos that he used in studying the casino issue over the last several months.

The plan: Three resort-style gambling casinos and a promise to dedicate up to $450 million in annual state revenues to rebuilding roads and bridges and local property tax relief.

The protection: The governor outlined a series of safeguards to regulate casino operations, protect surrounding communities from impacts and hold the state lottery "harmless" by using casino income to offset any drop in lottery gambling.

The quote: `I'm not looking to, or interested in, turning Massachusetts into Las Vegas.' - Gov. Deval L. Patrick

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Mr. DiMasi (2) Ms. Murray (3) Mr. Patrick
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 18, 2007
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