Senate President Therese Murray said today that she expects casino gambling to pass the Senate when it comes up for a vote within the next two weeks, but she does not see the measure as a historic change for the Commonwealth.
“Most people I talk to, unless they are philosophically opposed, it’s no big deal,” she said in an interview this afternoon in her office. “It’s like a no-brainer.”
Murray was joined in the interview by Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who has been heavily involved in steering the gambling debate, and three members of her staff.
Murray cited the promise of thousands of jobs as the key to her support.
She characterized the bill, which would authorize three casinos and a slot machine parlor, as an evolution in a state that already allows significant gambling.
“Forty years ago, when they put the lottery in, that was the change,” she said.
Murray supported casino gambling last year, when a bill passed in both the House and the Senate but was derailed by a dispute with Governor Deval Patrick over the number and types of gambling venues that would be allowed.
Murray joked that she needed to make sure the bill gets passed this year “because my older and younger sister want to make sure this happens” so they don’t have to drive to Connecticut anymore to play penny slots once a month.
Still, Murray has been less passionate in her support than Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. This year, Murray, Patrick, and DeLeo worked out their differences behind closed doors before a bill became public, increasing the likelihood that it will become law.
DeLeo led the House in passing the bill overwhelmingly last week. Murray said the Senate will begin debate on a similar bill Monday. But a vote will likely not be taken next week. Senators have a number of legislative maneuvers at their disposal, which can delay debate for several days. And the chamber will not debate gambling on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, because Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins Wednesday night. Last year, the Senate stretched its debate over eight days.
Senators have introduced 182 amendments, including several that will affect local communities near potential casino sites.
One amendment would require Boston and other large cities to grant approval in a citywide vote if a casino wants to locate there. The current bill only requires a citywide vote in smaller cities and towns. In Boston, it would require only a vote of the local ward, meaning only East Boston residents would get to vote if Suffolk Downs gets a casino license.
Murray said she supports keeping it that way.
“If a developer were successful in East Boston, they are really separated from the rest of the city by a tunnel,” she said.
She disputed the notion that a casino in East Boston would change the character of the entire city.
“Wonderland and Suffolk Downs have been there for years and years and years ,and that was always part of the culture,” she said. “If they are the successful bidder – and we don’t know that. It’s way too soon for that. – they’re going to have live racing again that’s going to be really beefed up. The racing is going to be beefed up. So it will be an attraction as well.”
Rosenberg said the bill requires casinos to pay the cost of State Police troopers who would patrol the casinos. Rosenberg said the bill, like those in other states, allows problem gamblers to put themselves on an exclusion list. He said the bill would be the first in the country to allow people to petition courts to have their relatives placed on the exclusion list.
Rosenberg said most people who have a gambling problem already have access to nearby casinos, though he conceded there would be some new addicts created in communities near casino sites.
Opponents argue the social costs of gambling will outweigh any benefits. Murray said she worries about addiction, but believes money in the bill for addiction services and other provisions will protect against those problems.
“This is a jobs creation bill and that’s primarily why we’re doing it,” she said.Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.