Gaming commission seeks relaxation of CORI standard

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 18, 2014….Massachusetts gaming industry regulators are interested in re-opening the 2011 law that authorized up to three casinos, saying the statute is inconsistent with reforms to criminal records standards.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said the statute the commission operates under has a “very strict” background check requirement and some believe it is too “rigid” for potential low-level gaming facility employees with criminal records.

“It’s made it very difficult to target a lot of the underemployed or unemployed potential employees that the law says we should be targeting,” Crosby said this week.

With a new Legislature and a new governor slated to take office in January, the commission will likely propose a “limited, strategic fix” to the gaming law, which allows for up to three casinos and a slot parlor, Crosby said at a Tuesday meeting of an advisory panel to the state gaming commission.

Crosby acknowledged the governor and legislators have been “very reluctant” to re-open debate on the 2011 law, though the casino licensees agree that criminal offender standards, which lawmakers revised in 2010, are strict.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, one of the architects of the gaming law, said he would be willing to take a look at making corrections or technical changes requested by the gaming commission.

“But as I’ve said repeatedly, any major changes in terms of what we had provided for, I would not be in favor of that,” DeLeo (D-Winthrop) told the News Service. “If it’s straightening out an inconsistency in the law, then of course we’ll address it.”

Asked about the criminal offender record issue raised by Crosby, DeLeo added, “I do believe that obviously, that those folks who work in a facility such as a casino, should be held to a higher standard especially, in terms of any record or anything else that they may have. So I am concerned about that, right off the bat. But again, I would take a look to see if there is something we can improve upon.”

The gaming commission sent a memo earlier this year to six top lawmakers and the governor, outlining proposed changes to the 2011 gambling law. Of the seven elected officials, four will no longer be in office, including Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, Senate Ways and Means chairman Stephen Brewer and Sen. Gale Candaras, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

The memo included a letter to Crosby from the commission’s gaming consultant, New Jersey law firm Michael & Carroll, comparing how other states treat potential employees with criminal offender record information (CORI).

“Based on our experience, and on the above analysis of other jurisdictions, we believe the present statutory standard for the issuance of casino service employee registration is too harsh,” the attorneys wrote. “We say this with a full appreciation for the need to strictly control casino operations and the people who staff them.”

The gambling law requires the commission to deny permission to people who want to assume “the least sensitive jobs” in a casino if they have a felony or theft or fraud convictions within ten years of their application, the attorneys’ letter said.

The commission’s memo also recommends upping the threshold of when gaming licensees report on a monthly basis to the Department of Transitional Assistance the list of people awarded cash winnings or prizes to $1,200 from $600. The statute is meant to allow for the identification of people who may be receiving public assistance.

The memo said Wynn Resorts, which is building a casino in Everett and MGM, which is building a casino in Springfield, back the change. “Wynn and MGM call for repeal of this section as administratively burdensome, inconsistent with other gaming jurisdictions, and of questionable public policy wisdom,” the memo said.

The commission has previously called for increasing to $1,200 from $600 the figure for gaming operators to report and withhold state income tax on gambling winners.

The proposed CORI changes surfaced during Tuesday’s meeting of the Gaming Policy Advisory Committee, which provides feedback and advice to the commission on policies and research, community mitigation, addiction services and public safety issues.

Brian Lang, the president of the union UNITE HERE Local 26 and a member of the advisory panel, said he would like the panel to consider endorsing the CORI changes.

Crosby noted the law calls on the commission to provide employment opportunities for all economic sectors, particularly the unemployed.

But Sen. Richard Ross, a Wrentham Republican and an advisory panel member, said the standards should not necessarily be relaxed. “The stricter standards are the better standards,” he said.

Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), who also sits on the panel, said she needs more information but CORI changes are “worth a look.”

The chair of the advisory panel, Dennis DiZolgio, said he was supportive of potential changes to CORI standards in the gaming legislation.

“It may not be one of my priorities but I’m sure it’s going to be one of the priorities of some of the members and hopefully I can help them,” DiZoglio said.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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