Making the News

Boston Globe

Originally Published:Thursday, August 5, 2010
http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2010/08/05/for_builders_workers_towns_casino_loss_stings/?page=1

For builders, workers, towns, casino loss stings

By Casey Ross
Boston Globe

The failure to pass an expanded gambling bill has left its supporters seething.

There are the frustrated developers who must now shelve multimillion-dollar building plans and hope for success in the next legislative session. There are the municipal officials across the state who were counting on those developments for new jobs and tax revenue. And then there are people like Robert Young, a landscaper in Palmer who wanted a casino to enliven the local business climate and can't believe the legislation fell through again.

"The leaders of state government ought to be ashamed of themselves,'' said Young, a member of a Palmer business group that lobbied for a casino there. "They all agreed on 99 percent of the bill, and then they let their egos get in the way.''

Fallout from the collapsed negotiations was immediate and emotional yesterday, with labor unions and community leaders accusing Governor Deval Patrick and legislative leaders of fumbling a chance to create badly needed economic activity.

"My members are unbelievably disappointed and angry,'' said Mark Erlich, executive secretary of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. More than 5,000 of the council's members, or about 25 percent, are out of work, according to Erlich.

"We never thought casinos were a silver bullet,'' he said, "but to the degree any economic development gets stopped, that's fewer jobs for people to look forward to.''

Nationwide, casino legislation has often proved difficult to pass. In Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, expanded gambling bills and referendums have repeatedly failed before winning approval. "It's not unusual for states to take years to consider these initiatives,'' said Michael Pollack of Spectrum Gaming Group, an industry research firm. "It requires intensive debate on all the issues involved.''

But some analysts said the delay could cost the state, making it miss a critical window of opportunity. The regional market threatens to become increasingly crowded despite the struggling fortunes of some casinos, including Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut, where revenue fell during the recession. Proposals to open gambling facilities in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine - potential competitors for Massachusetts - are being considered.

"You do reduce your competitiveness by coming in later,'' said Clyde Barrow, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professor who tracks the gambling industry. "You end up with more casinos in the same market, and the size of the casinos you could site would be scaled back considerably.''

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who led efforts to craft the Senate's gambling legislation, said he worries that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will build a gambling hall in Southeastern Massachusetts before the state establishes regulations.

"I've always thought the big issue is that the Wampanoag tribe could gain the ability to open a facility with electronic bingo machines, basically a slots parlor,'' Rosenberg said, noting that federal law gives tribes the right to offer whatever level of gambling is already legal in the state. In Massachusetts, that means the tribe could offer electronic bingo, but could not open a full-scale casino with table games. However, the tribe has not yet put land into federal trust, a necessary step to open a casino on sovereign land.

Most casino supporters agree the failure of this year's legislation forfeits an opportunity to generate jobs and tax revenues when communities are most in need. The Legislature's proposed bill would have authorized three resort-style casinos and slot machines at two racetracks, a combination that would have generated an estimated 15,000 jobs and $400 million in annual revenues. Patrick amended the bill to remove approval for slots at the racetracks, arguing that the provision amounted to a no-bid contract that would create more social ills than benefits.

 

Legislators have refused to return to formal session to take up the governor's changes, as it appeared unlikely that hey would be able to muster enough support to overturn them. That leaves the bill in limbo, probably until the Legislature returns next year.

The effects were quickly felt at the two racetracks that hoped the bill would allow them to install slot machines. Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville laid off 160 track workers Tuesday , and a spokesperson for Raynham Park in Raynham said the former dog track is suspending plans to rehire 400 laid-off workers.

Some casino developers said they were disappointed the governor and legislators couldn't reach a compromise when the bill was closer to being passed than ever before.

"It's sad that it didn't get done when you have all three leaders who agree it should pass, but then can't agree on the final form,'' said David Nunes, a developer who has proposed a casino complex in Milford.

He and other developers said, however, that they will continue to pursue their plans to build in Massachusetts, and they expect legislation will eventually pass.

"We're as committed as we've ever been,'' said Andrew Stern, managing director of KG Urban Enterprises, which is proposing a casino in New Bedford. "There are a lot of facets of the legislation that the state's leaders agree on, so we're hoping they can find a way to get this done.''

But there is no guarantee that the state's current political leadership will remain in place after the November election. Patrick faces an election fight against several opponents; and more than two dozen legislators are not running for reelection this year, including Senate Ways and Mean chairman Steven C. Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat who was heavily involved in recent negotiations on the gambling bill.

Yesterday, Patrick and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo continued to blame each other for the bill's failure.

"If the governor's original bill was passed when he proposed it in 2007, destination resort casinos would be up and running now, and thousands of more people would be at work,'' Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan said.

Seth Gitell, a spokesman for DeLeo, said: "Speaker DeLeo is disappointed Governor Patrick could not see his way to accepting what is, in the aggregate, a reasonable compromise. He has walked away from creating 15,000 jobs, infusing local aid to cities and towns, and protecting existing jobs.''

Casey Ross can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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