SPRINGFIELD – With a gaming and casino bill headed for the state Senate next month, the prospect is akin to a game of Black Jack.
“The magic number still is 21,” state Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield, said of the pending debate over slot machine parlors and resort casinos among the senate’s 40 members. Any successful bill would need a simple majority vote of 21 votes.
State Sen. President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, in the area Saturday to receive an honorary degree at Westfield State College, said she fully expects the Senate to launch a debate over a draft gaming bill by mid-June. Therese Murray
An April House bill by a 120-37 vote supported two casinos in Massachusetts – a somewhat miraculous turnaround given the defeat of gaming legislation under former House Speaker Salvator F. DiMasi in 2008.
Murray said she is wholly in favor of “destination resort” casinos in the state because of its job-generating potential in a pallid economy.
“It took me a while to evolve and to be supportive of casinos,” said Murray. “But I’ve come to believe it’s a key to economic development.”
The refrain from casino proponents includes that Massachusetts loses up to $700 million in revenues to Connecticut, with its two gaming resorts.
“If we could even capture $500 million, that’s a big bonus,” Murray said.
The House bill allowed for two casinos but did not specify any region or location. Some in Western Massachusetts has been fighting fiercely to site a casino here. But the House bill more likely shadows one in eastern Massachusetts and a federally sanctioned, Wampanoag tribe location. That tribe has most recently struck a deal with Fall River.
Murray said the anticipated public debate in June would include an aggressive antigambling caucus in the Senate of about 10 members. However, they hope to present a compromise bill to Gov. Deval L. Patrick before the session ends of July 31.
Other members said the cycle may have to begin anew if the initiative flops or runs out of time.
“If it fails in this session, it basically becomes a dead issue,” Buoniconti said.
State Sen. Michael F. Knapik, R-Westfield, said he believes the senate will be hard-pressed to reject gaming entirely.
“Clearly we need the revenue. This is the largest single creator of jobs that may come along,” Knapik said. “The senate is generally in favor of casinos .¤.¤. I assume that will be a foregone conclusion. It’ll be the details that are up for debate.”
Knapik said he is “bullish” on the notion of having one of the theoretical casinos slated for Western Massachusetts, and therefore supports Patrick’s earlier proposal to site three casinos in the Bay State.
“I don’t know that two casinos will create a critical mass,” for gaming corporations and vendors considering Massachusetts, he said. “Three casinos make it an easier sell.”
Members said another gaming issue ripe for debate is whether slot machines will be automatically licensed at dogless greyhound tracks, or whether licenses will be put on the block for the highest bidder.
Knapik believes prospective slots purveyors should have to compete for licenses.
Buoniconti said he believes regional wars may break out among members, depending on whether specific interests are served under the compromise bill. He said as a practical matter, slots will yield the quickest revenues.
“Basically all you need is a warehouse to truck the machines in,” he said. “The revenues will be almost immediate.”