Gambling Bill passes House

The House approved the gambling bill by a vote of 120 to 37 last night. Click here for the roll call. Click here for a detailed summary of the bill. Click here for other posts on the casino issue.

There was little suspense as to the final outcome, but the debate over a period of two days was spirited and thoughtful. Although it turned out that the final vote was not close, for many representatives, this vote was a hard call. The proposal has strong economic promise, but on the other hand many of us doubt the reality of that promise and see the possibility of big downsides. I personally feel that the probable downsides outweigh the probable upsides, but we all have to acknowledge that we lack a perfect crystal ball. In a case of uncertainty, the speaker’s views do weigh heavily. Additionally, most of us felt that right or wrong, the bill was well put together.

Also, peer groups influence each other. Most of us have close relationships with our geographic neighbors in the house. Again, on a confusing question, these relationships matter. Almost half of the no votes came from a block of geographically contiguous representatives arrayed from Roxbury through Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Belmont, Watertown, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury and Wayland. Newton reps split on the vote. Of course, these communities do include some of the more liberal leaning voters in the state, but it would be an oversimplification to frame this as a liberal vs. conservative issue. Four of the 16 Republicans voted against the bill (a slightly higher no proportion than the Democrats — 33 of 141 Democrats voted no). The west suburban districts include no likely casino sites and have less economic upside in the bill; many of us tend to see casinos as a threat to our progress in revitalizing our own downtown areas. Other geographic trends in the voting — reps on the cape and in Western Mass., tourist venues likely to suffer from casino competition, tended to vote no.

From here, the bill goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in some form, then to a final three way negotiation including the Governor. The likely outcome is some form of final approval for casinos. The largest uncertainty is whether the final bill will include “racinos” — slot parlors at the rate tracks. Many have pointed out that the speaker has two race tracks in/near his district and the Globe has covered this extensively. But what is less discussed is that those tracks are close together and could be connected as a likely site for a full casino — so the racino concept might be more of a bridge loan for those operations than a final outcome. So, getting a casino bill might be a solid win for the speaker, with or without slots at the tracks.

The train has left the station and, willing or not, we are all on board. Let’s hope it works out better than some of us fear.

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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District