By Joseph Domelowicz
For the Transcript
Winthrop’s State Senator, Anthony Petruccelli, has submitted a compromise casino gaming bill in the Senate, co-sponsored by Representative Carlo Basile that calls for three resort-style casinos and one racino in Massachusetts. If passed and signed into law, the state coffers would immediately receive millions of dollars in revenue through licensing fees, capital improvements and taxes.
“While we should not dwell on the past, it is important to remember where gaming legislation left off in the last session,” said Petruccelli. “The Governor stated that he wanted more competition for the proposed licenses to be granted in order for him to sign the bill. Representative Basile and I have proposed a bill that we believe satisfies that criteria and are hopeful of a more positive result this session.”
Last year, the state was closer than ever to passing casino gaming in the Commonwealth but Speaker Robert DeLeo wanted two slot parlors or ‘racinos’ at state racetracks and Governor Deval Patrick wanted none. Patrick came around and extended an olive branch to DeLeo and said that he would accept one racino but wanted them to be competitively bid not only by the current racetrack owners. DeLeo tried to out maneuver Patrick politically and waited for the governor to blink.
The governor took all the racinos off the table and said he was ‘done’ and the casino gaming issue died in late August 2010.
Petruccelli feels his bill is a good compromise to the polarizing politics that occurred up on Beacon Hill last year and subsequently killed gaming in the state.
“Last year we all agreed that casino gaming was something positive as a way to spark the state’s economy with revenue and job growth,” said Petruccelli. “While many agreed that three resort-style casinos was a move in the right direction it came down to the racino issue — the Speaker wanted two racinos, the governor came around to one but now is the time to get a bill everyone can agree on over the goal line and I think this bill can accomplish that.”
While Petruccelli is not sure if the Governor will sign his bill he hopes it satisfies the criteria the Governor has discussed in the past. Petruccelli added that he offers up the compromise bill as something both sides can begin to discuss and at least agree upon some of the major points.
“I have no pride of authorship with this piece of legislation,” said Petruccelli. “I offered it in order to inject a different idea to be a part of the conversation, because the issue is too important to the jobs creation agenda for the communities that I represent to not find a resolution.”
Petruccelli’s bill would authorize thee resort-style casinos (one in each of three defined regions of the state), authorize one racino awarded to an existing or proposed racetrack through the same competitive process used to award casino license and have most upfront revenues ($260 million) dedicated to local aid.
The bill also creates the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission with the Governor appointing three members, the Attorney General and Treasurer both appointing one. The Governor would designate the commission chairperson according to the bill.
Petruccelli’s bill also clearly defines the eligibility requirements for a gaming licensees. For a resort-style casino the licensing fee would be set at $85 million and capital investment requirements would be between $400 to $600 million. Petruccelli’s bill also includes a ballot referendum by a “host community.
The wording in the bill states that “if the gaming establishment is proposed to be located in a city with a population of 125,000 or more residents according to the most recent federal census, and further the “host community” shall mean only the ward in which the gaming establishment is to be located. Then a certified and binding vote of that ward would be put on a ballot question at an election.
For a racino license the licensing fee would be $25 million and capital investment requirements would be $75 million. The racino license also comes with a host community agreement that includes an impact fee, community infrastructure costs, affirmative-action programs and MEPA review.
Petruccelli also calls for a Gaming Mitigation Trust Fund with 35% going to community mitigation, 35% to social mitigation, 20% to cultural mitigation, 10% for racetrack support (purses and breeding) and other agricultural support.
Within the gaming commission an Investigations and Enforcement Bureau would be established as law enforcement agency within the commission with responsibility for regulatory enforcement. The bureau would cooperate with the Attorney General’s office on regulatory and criminal enforcement.
The bill gives state police exclusive jurisdiction over gaming offenses and concurrent jurisdiction with local police departments on other crimes.