Boston – Casino opponents rallied on Beacon Hill on Wednesday, a day after the House speaker said expanded gambling would be debated this legislative session.
Casino Free Massachusetts, a coalition of casino foes, sent to all legislators copies of „fool’s gold,“ or materials that outlined studies that show the economic problems created by predatory gambling and slot machines. Opponents said legislators shouldn’t be fooled by the false promises of the casino industry.
„We’re talking about the state promoting predatory gambling to cover its budget shortfall,“ said the Rev. Robert K. Massie, a casino opponent and the 1994 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said he has two race tracks in his district and has been an advocate for slot machines at the tracks.
DeLeo said he views slots or the possibility of expanded gaming as „another economic engine“ the state can have in its arsenal.
„It’s an idea I’m open to,“ DeLeo said. „If we’re going to do it, we have to do it right. We have to make sure that we maximize return on any investments that are made. That’s why we are going to be careful.“
Deleo said „probably later on in this legislative session, you are going to see us take up this issue. You are going to see this issue debated in full.“
Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said casinos currently aren’t on the administration’s radar screen. He suggested the administration won’t be filing a casino bill.
„Not on our end,“ Murray said. „The administration right now is focused on pension reform, ethics reform, transportation reform and obviously, the very difficult budget.“
The state House of Representatives last year voted overwhelmingly against Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s bill to license three casino resorts.
In Western Massachusetts, the Mohegan Sun is intensifying its quest to build a USD 1 billion casino in Palmer if casinos are legalized. The Mohegan Tribe operates a successful casino in Uncasville, Conn.
Leon H. Dragone of Longmeadow said casinos mean tourism, jobs and tax revenues for the state. He noted that Massachusetts gamblers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year at the two Native American casinos in Connecticut.
„The fact is we already have casino gaming in Massachusetts,“ said Dragone, an owner of land off Exit 8 on the Massachusetts Turnpike where the Mohegan Sun wants to build a casino. „It just happens to be in Connecticut.“
Paul I. Brody, a vice president for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, is scheduled to discuss plans for the Palmer casino with state legislators during a meeting on Friday in Springfield.
During the anti-casino rally, about 25 people stood on the steps of the Statehouse carrying signs that said, „Slots are a Sucker’s Bet“ and „Gambling Can Destroy Families.“
Leo C. Maley of Amherst, a member of the board of Casino Free Massachusetts, Patricia K. Church, a physical therapist from Amherst, and Sarah McKee of Amherst, a retired federal prosecutor, attended the rally.
Church said it’s unconscionable for the state to balance its budget on the backs of people who can least afford it.
She said slot machines addict vulnerable people.
Diane L. Jeffrey, president of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, said the gambling industry is trying to fool people into thinking that slot machines are harmless.
„Out-of-control gamblers are the profit center for the casino trade,“ Jeffrey said.