Two states last month rejected gaming as a new revenue source and generator of jobs and infrastructure improvements. Freshman governors who won election on the pledge to approve casinos showed their lack of political acumen in the defeats.
The three-regional-casino bill proposed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick went down to defeat after several days of intense arm-twisting by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who said he preferred other solutions to the state’s budget crisis.
Even before the vote Patrick conceded that the bill stood little chance of passage. During his appearance before a House committee, as hundreds of supporters, including union members in hard hats, demonstrated in favor, he told the committee: “I have no illusions about the plans in the House for this legislation… What you do in this committee will determine whether that full and open debate is even possible.
Anticipating a loss in the House, state Senator Steven Panagiotakos, chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, proposed a referendum in November to poll the public on the issue.
Such a measure would require being passed in both houses of the legislature, so DiMasi could still bottle it up.
Another gaming-related bill, this one authorizing slot machines at racetracks, failed to get the needed votes from the Committee on Consumer Protection and Licensure. The same bill will be examined by Committee on Economic Development, where supporters hope it will get better treatment. They are also promoting it as a less sweeping alternative to Patrick’s bill.
The racino bill could bring $200 million annually to the state.
In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear declared his floundering casino bill to be dead, at least for this session of the legislature.
“It is time we let the people decide this issue,” he said.
Beshear, a Democrat, says casinos could help plug a projected $900 million budget deficit and forestall severe cuts in government services. He has advanced casino gambling as a way to fund education.
Brereton Jones, chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, told Bloodhorse magazine that the effort was handled badly from the beginning.
“The governor made a big mistake in not introducing the bill immediately as House Bill 1,” said Jones, “and calling the Democratic leadership together and saying, ‘This is what I ran on, this is what I told the people I would do, this is what they said they wanted. We’ll pass this bill first, and then I’ll help you pass your bills.’ But he chose not to do that.”
Beshear vowed the fight for casinos isn’t over.
“Obviously, we will see how things develop over the next year and a half, as we approach the 2010 session, to see what might be possible at that time,” he said.