Massachusetts on path to expand gambling

Apr 21, 2009 5:07 PM
by Ray Poirier | All it took for the Massachusetts politicians to see big dollar signs from gambling was a quick look at a potential $3.5 billion budget shortfall. From that moment on, it was "let’s grease the skids and get the job done."

Now support for either casinos, slot machine emporiums or both comes from Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Gov. Deval Patrick, the man who proposed casinos in the first place.

Missing was the politician who thwarted Patrick’s expanded gambling plan, former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. His departure under a cloud has opened the doors wide for slots, and or, casinos.

A recent study that showed Massachusetts residents spend about $900 million a year at Connecticut casinos also added fuel to the effort.

"Even if we pick up $700 million from that," Senator Murray told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last week, "we would all take that."

Now, in typical Massachusetts political fashion, the in-fighting begins. Patrick sees the greater flow of state revenue coming from three properly placed casinos. But, racetrack owners, who typically carry a lot of political weight, want slot machine licenses for their dying establishments.

Richard Field, a former partner of Donald Trump in the development of Florida casinos for the Seminole Tribe, purchased a majority interest in Suffolk Downs in East Boston, with the expressed purpose of bidding for a casino license or turning his facility into a racino.

But, his immediate neighbor, Wonderland Park, a dog track owned by restaurateur Charlie Sarkis, will join with his political enemy, George Carney, owner of Raynham dog track, in bids for racinos. And they will have the company of Plainridge trotting track operator Gary Piontkowski, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Racing Commission, seeking the slots licenses.

As a state official recently pointed out, the fastest way to get gambling revenue into the state’s coffers is through slots parlors.