In the war over gambling in Massachusetts, there’s one thing the pro- and anticasino factions can agree on: the lobbyists and lawyers already have hit the jackpot.
Not a single gambling hall has been built, but the law allowing casinos and slots might as well have been a job creation act for the tasseled-loafer and pin-stripe suit set, with tens of millions of dollars flowing their way to grease the wheels of government and navigate the new rules.
Since 2007, when a newly elected Governor Deval Patrick declared he would welcome slots and blackjack to the Commonwealth, the gambling industry has spent about $16 million in lobbying and related legal work, according to records filed with the secretary of state’s office. The figure balloons when you add in general legal work, not captured in the filings, and just about every law firm in town seems to be billing hours related to casinos.
Much of the heavy spending was to get the bill passed in 2011, but casino interests have shifted their focus from Beacon Hill to town officials and regulators charged with the nitty-gritty of opening gambling palaces.
Even after the gaming commission awards up to four licenses this year, don’t expect to see lobbyists and their ilk in the unemployment line. They’ll find another reason to play another hand. Steve Wynn, for one, could decide he needs a law to help “getting people over there to come here,” as he put it last week. Maybe by blimp?
“Lobbyists are a hardy breed,” said Secretary of State William F. Galvin. “Unless they are totally extinct, they will continue to get paid.”
So who’s playing for whom, and which bidders are the high rollers?
The biggest spender, by far, has been Suffolk Downs. Between 2007 and 2013, the aging horsetrack owned by concessionaire king Joe O’Donnell and impresario Richard Fields has spent more than $3 million pushing a casino plan — nearly twice as much as other interested parties. Most recently, Suffolk Downs enlisted former House speaker Charlie Flaherty to lobby on its behalf, according to a review of state records.
But that’s chump change, really, considering a casino with 3,000 slot machines can rake in $3 million in less than a week just from one-arm bandits.
Wynn, dueling with Suffolk Downs for the Boston license, has kicked in close to $1.3 million since 2007 to ML Strategies. Former Massport director Steve Tocco runs the high-powered lobbying firm and works as the Las Vegas mogul’s lobbyist here.
So what happened to former governor William Weld, who last month sat nice and cozy next to Wynn at a gaming commission meeting? Weld, also at ML Strategies, is Wynn’s lawyer. That arrangement generates a separate invoice of billable hours all by itself.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has no money, but it’s trying to open a casino in Taunton, and plenty of people want to help. For a price. The tribe, now backed by Malaysian casino giant Genting, has spent about $1.8 million since 2007 on lobbying in Massachusetts, with a good chunk of that in the last year. Former congressman Bill Delahunt and old Beacon Hill hand Bobby White have been working with the tribe helping on a variety of issues — such as the recent compact with the state over how much revenue it will receive from the Indian casino.
Fighting with the Mashpees has been KG Urban Enterprises, which proposes to build a casino in the same region in New Bedford. KG has doled out nearly half a million dollars for lobbying since 2007, to make sure Beacon Hill awarded a commercial license in the southeastern part of the state regardless of whether there’s an Indian casino. KG is still not happy, believing that based on a US Supreme Court ruling the Mashpees are not eligible for tribal lands for a casino because they were not federally recognized until 2007. Bob Bernstein, the former state senator from Worcester, has been gladhanding for KG.
Combing through the lobbying records, what’s just as interesting is who quietly wagered big bets on the casino law — and came up short.
Delaware North Cos., the company run by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, is one of them. His firm, which also owns TD Garden, has spent about $414,000 since 2007 and has flirted with opening a slots parlor at the Raynham dog track. Turns out Delaware North runs seven gaming facilities across the country. In fact, the gaming division is one of Delaware North’s largest units, accounting for 30 percent of its $2.7 billion in annual revenue. Who knew?
Beacon Hill brought us casinos to create jobs and pump life into the economy. We just weren’t told that lobbyists and lawyers would be first in line.