Massachusetts lawmakers OK bill to allow 3 casinos, 1 slots parlor

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday passed a final version of a bill designed to license up to three resort-style casinos and a single slots parlor in the state.

The House voted 118-33 in the afternoon to accept the compromise bill. The Senate quickly followed, approving the bill on a 23-14 vote.

Each chamber must take a final procedural vote before sending the bill to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating the fine print, but the bill seems to conform with the general principles and features that we have discussed and agreed to,” the governor said Tuesday.

Rep. Joseph Wagner helped shepherd the bill through the House and sat on the six-member conference committee.

“We think it’s a reasonable, good and fair compromise,” said Wagner, D-Chicopee.

Wagner defended key compromises in the final bill, including a decision to drop an amendment tacked on to the Senate bill that could have lifted restrictions on happy hours in Massachusetts at bars and restaurants by giving those establishments that same ability to offer free or discounted drinks as the casinos.

Wagner said that the final bill will allow casinos to offer free or discounted drinks only on the gambling floor and not at restaurants or bars associated with the casino.

Rep. Ruth Balser, an opponent of expanded gambling, said that allowing casinos and a slots parlor in Massachusetts is a big mistake and will target those who should be in no position to gamble away their paychecks.

“We know that crime will increase. We know that homelessness will increase. We know that incarceration will increase,” said Balser, D-Newton. “This is the wrong direction for Massachusetts.”

The final bill includes another Senate amendment that would bar state, county and local officials, including state lawmakers, from working in the casino industry for at least one year after leaving office if those officials were involved with voting on or regulating casinos.

Supporters of the amendment say it’s needed to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest — particularly in light of a series of recent public corruption scandals at the Statehouse.

Supporters of casino gambling have predicted it will create as many as 15,000 jobs in Massachusetts, including 6,000 temporary construction jobs, and generate at least $300 million in new annual revenue for the state and its cities and towns.

An anti-casino group led by former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger has blasted the job creation estimates as “wildly optimistic” and called the revenue projections outdated because they were based on pre-recession data.

The legalization of expanded gambling in Massachusetts is expected to set off a scramble for the licensing rights for each of the three casinos and the slots parlor, whose exact locations have not yet been determined.

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