Gaming still sticky topic for politicos

Dec 29, 2009 5:05 PM


States wrestle with casinos at racetracks

Remember those earliest school days, when you proudly got up and recited the states and their capitals?

I thought of that this week covering racing, where these days it’s important to memorize not the capitals but the governors running them, and the legislative leaders who in many cases are determined to do them in.

Most of the states are mired in debt that grows deeper by the day, and depending on how far they think they can go, their governors are glancing at gambling as an answer to their woes.

As in Washington – the one on the Potomac, not the rainy one out northwest – the governors have been engaged in mortal combat with their legislatures. As Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said, dejected and despairing of his beloved United States Senate, that august body has turned into a crass and common collection of street fighters, with gutter language and total loss of the decorum that once made it the envied model of the legislative world.

Consider where things stand. Our bicameral two-party system has deteriorated into a Republican vs. Democratic bare knuckle brawl, where the good for constituents is ignored for the good of the party.

Specter’s home state is a good example. It took 101 days past deadline for the Pennsylvania legislature to approve Gov. Ed Rendell’s budget, and then they left out his proposal for table games at the state’s casinos. That was another 60 days ago, and as this is written the measure still isn’t signed. It may be by the time you read this, because Rendell, disgusted with the petty political battling, told them flat out he would close state museums and parks and fire a thousand more state employees – 730 or so already had gotten the axe – if they didn’t pass the measure by Jan. 8, and place the blame squarely on them.

In Florida, the legislature has rebelled against Gov. Charlie Crist, refusing to approve his compact with the Seminole Indians, who basically control big time gambling in the state.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick says he talked with an anti-gambling group, and came away convinced that slot parlors, racinos or any form of convenience gambling "is not something I can support." The next day the state’s House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, was out in front of Macy’s department store with the Salvation Army bellringers in busy Downtown Crossing in Boston, for a press op that paid off. The reporters and photographers showed up, and DeLeo said the governor’s stance was nothing new, and that he planned to introduce an expanded gambling bill in the House in January or February.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson was fighting with his legislature, the former longtime all-powerful Senate boss Joe Bruno was headed for jail, and the present legislative leaders and governor who will decide who gets to build and run the huge casino at Aqueduct Race Track still were unable to agree, coming up on nine years since the enabling legislation was passed.

In Maryland, a divided county council that has fought among itself and acted like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight for 10 months, trying to decide whether to approve a casino site at a big mall, finally did, but the county executive promptly vetoed another important provision of their decision, to allow a racino at Laurel Park. That racetrack, incidentally, along with its sister track Pimlico, home of the Preakness, is up for auction sale on Jan. 8. Maybe.

In New Jersey the new Republican governor, Chris Christie, is carping that his Democratic predecessor Jon Corzine still is making lame duck appointments. When reminded that all governors do that, Christie said that didn’t make it right. Corzine, meanwhile, flew to California, leaving Senate president Richard Codey, a fellow Democrat, in charge as acting governor, a role he has played before. Faced with a major decision on coping with the huge blizzard that hit New Jersey, Codey – a wildly enthusiastic sports fan – gave it the acid test.

"I went to the Seton Hall basketball game," he said. "The roads were fine. Everything is okay."

Good to know that’s true on one front. Too bad more governors, acting or real, aren’t big sports fans.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein