STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 29, 2014…..Legislative leaders who served as chief architects of the Massachusetts casino gambling law that’s now the target of a repeal effort have both turned down requests by casino opponents for a debate.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose push for a law pulled expanded gambling opponents to his side after casino opponent Speaker Salvatore DiMasi left office, will not debate repeal proponents.
A DeLeo spokesman referred the News Service to DeLeo’s campaign committee and treasurer David Martin, who said in a statement, “Speaker DeLeo has declined the invitation. He is focused on finishing the business of this session, formulating policy initiatives he will be spearheading next session and working on legislative elections.”
Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg, who Senate President Therese Murray charged with leading the Senate’s push for casinos, also declined a debate invitation from casino opponent John Ribeiro, chairman of the Repeal the Casino Deal Campaign.
“I have respectfully declined Yes on 3’s invitation,” Rosenberg said in a statement to the News Service. “When legislators, and the governor, approved expanded gaming we did so only after painstaking research and extensive public debate. We’ve had our say on the issue. Voters, with Question 3, will now have the opportunity to have their say by either ratifying or repealing the law.”
With Murray not seeking re-election, Rosenberg plans to take over as Senate president in January. Voters in November will decide whether to halt the casino industry, which has already been awarded three licenses, or continue on with it and the potential licensing of a third casino in southeastern Massachusetts.
The Yes on 3 camp says debates offer voters “a valuable opportunity to hear firsthand from people at both sides of the table.” They also extended invitations last week to executives at the casino licensees.
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO James Murren, Penn National President and CEO Timothy Wilmott, and Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn have not responded to the invitation, according to the campaign. Two of the three licensees also did not respond to News Service inquiries, and some of the licensees forwarded media inquiries to the Committee to Protect Mass Jobs, which is leading the anti-repeal effort.
“The Committee to Protect Mass Jobs is coordinating participation in debates and forums on Question 3,” committee spokeswoman Justine Griffin said in a statement to the News Service. “We have received a lot of invitations and plan on participating in as many of them as possible, because we have seen that when people hear about the jobs and economic development that gaming brings, they are enthusiastic in their support. This is a Massachusetts issue that will go before Massachusetts voters, and we will bring Massachusetts voices to discuss why people should vote No on 3.”
MGM Springfield spokesman Carole Brennan said in a statement that labor, building trades, small business, and chamber and tourism bureau officials had joined the ballot committee fighting the repeal effort.
“We are engaged in a daily, fact-based, educational campaign about the benefits of the Gaming Act, namely thousands of jobs and billions in economic development. We have numerous requests to discuss Question 3, and we refer those requests to the Committee,” Brennan said.
“We’re not surprised to see casino leaders dodge debates,” Ribeiro said in a statement Monday. “The more voters hear about casino’s damaging effects, the more likely they are to support a Yes on 3. The industry and its puppets don’t want to have a debate on the merits of the bill, as was evidenced by their first TV advertisement. It’s deception. The voters of Massachusetts deserve better.”
While casino interests appear prepared to mount a pricey campaign to keep the law, repeal proponents have racked up debt, first fighting to get their question on the ballot after Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to certify it, a ruling overturned in court.
Asked about next steps in light of the debate refusals, Stephen Eisele, who is working with the repeal campaign, said they were still in the process of setting up debates and had been approached by “a few different news outlets.”
“As we negotiate scheduling, we’re calling on the news stations to ask that the pro-casino groups not send underlings, but the decision makers that seek to profit off of Massachusetts residents,” Eisele said in an email.
In his invitations to DeLeo and Rosenberg, which were announced Sept. 17, Ribeiro suggested they should “stand up for your plans.”
“You will be leading a key legislative body next year and were a primary cheerleader for bringing this industry to Massachusetts and swayed members of the Legislature that this was a good idea,” Ribeiro wrote. “The least you can do is personally stand up for your plans, explain the true benefits and costs and answer questions about the changing economic dynamics of this industry (from Atlantic City and Connecticut to Reno and Vegas) before the doors open – not after.”
Casino proponents envision a major influx of new jobs, new tax and licensing revenues for the state, and more convenient options for Massachusetts residents who visit out-of-state casinos. Casino opponents point to the closings of casinos in other states, the likelihood that casinos will lead to more crime and personal bankruptcies, and job losses at businesses crowded out by casinos.
Developers have received licenses from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to build resort casinos in Everett and Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville will be limited to slot machines.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service