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Brian McGrory

And we’re off to the races

There are undoubtedly Puritans who are rolling over in their graves today, but times change and the state has to change with them.

And so it was that Deval Patrick signed the state’s new gambling legislation yesterday with a tone that bordered on indifference. After the cameras were turned off and the crowds had left, the governor leaned casually against the doorway to his office looking like a guy who had just sold an heirloom that never mattered much to pay some bills that mattered a lot. “I’m not taking this lightly,’’ he said. “You can’t do this without defining who we are.’’

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The truth is, Massachusetts, in this new era of gambling, is not that different from the Massachusetts that studied, argued, and negotiated this thing to within an inch of its birth. We’ve had the most successful lottery in the nation for decades. Your neighborhood 7-Eleven is already a minicasino unto itself. There’s keno down the block and Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun about two hours away.

Now it’s about to get a lot more interesting. Specifically, don’t bet the house yet on Suffolk Downs being a lock for one of the licenses. Every prognosticator says that the formidable ownership team of Richard Fields and Joe O’Donnell, along with operating officer Chip Tuttle, in conjunction with Caesars Entertainment Corp., makes it a guarantee. But look to the governor’s appearance on WTKK-FM yesterday morning for evidence that may not be the case. “Personally, I’d rather see them outside of cities, and you have to get to them, because it may moderate the human impact,’’ Patrick said. He told me later, “I have ideas of what locations will be good and which are not.’’

Now’s a good time to point out that the governor appoints the head of the five-member gaming commission and picks two other commissioners with state Treasurer Steve Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley. Grossman and Coakley each get their own pick.

Maybe Suffolk, located in East Boston and Revere, does get the nod. Maybe they turn a pockmarked parking lot in the midst of an urban neighborhood a chip’s throw from the airport and convention center into the most lucrative casino complex in America, reviving the state’s horseracing industry in the process.

If not Suffolk, who? The most obvious choice is Milford, where developer David Nunes has a swath of land not far from the Massachusetts Turnpike, as well as the apparent support of the town. I know Nunes well enough to know he’s smart, above board, and has been quietly working at this for a long time.

Everyone with a brain is waiting for other competition to surface. Bob Kraft has been cagey about his land across from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. NFL rules prevent him from building his own casino, but he could lease the land. Which brings us to Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, two of the most successful casino operators in the world. Both have been paying big sums to top-shelf lobbyists, and Adelson is a Boston native. Stay tuned.

Overall, it’s an oddly fair law, thanks to Brian Dempsey, the House Ways and Means chairman, and Joe Wagner, the House chairman of the Economic Development Committee, who played pivotal roles.

Two last thoughts: The Wampanoag leadership used to have all the sophistication of the Hekawi Indians on F Troop, but now that they’ve partnered with the Genting Group of Malaysia, they are a force to be reckoned with.

And best to keep George Carney, owner of the Raynham dog track, and Gary Piontkowski, the Plainridge Racecourse chief executive, apart. They would probably kill each other for the slots parlor license, which wouldn’t be a good start to this new era.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.
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