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editorial

Gambling bill gets worse; Governor Patrick should veto it

THE CASINO bill that the Legislature is sending to Governor Patrick is worse than the outline he agreed to support over the summer — an outline that already diverged too much from his original principles in the gambling debate. When the measure reaches his desk, he should veto it.

A solid gambling bill might have directed all casino revenues to public necessities, contained strong protections to keep lawmakers who oversaw the bill from benefitting personally, and guaranteed local residents the final say over casino proposals in their community. Unfortunately, the current bill, which would license three resort casinos and a single slots parlor, fails all those tests.

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The worst change in the final agreement is the increase in the share of gambling revenues that will go to the politically connected horse-racing industry instead of to local aid. The initial proposal embraced by Patrick and legislative leaders earmarked 9 percent of slots-parlor revenue to boost purses at tracks. That was bad enough, but the final bill gives the tracks even more, providing them a 5 percent cut of the initial casino license fees and a 5 percent cut of casino taxes, too. This last provision — which caught the governor by surprise — could add up to tens of millions of dollars in additional subsidies for a single small private industry, when there are a host of far worthier public needs.

The final bill fails to protect the public interest in other ways. The conference committee declined to extend an insufficient “cooling-off period’’ that would prohibit lawmakers from working for gambling interests for a year after they leave office. Meanwhile, almost all towns in the state would automatically get an approval referendum on casinos, but the state’s largest cities would only hold a city-wide vote if their city councils want one. That’s a needless and unfair extra hurdle for urban areas.

The original agreement reached this summer was already a compromise for the governor, who had previously opposed slots. The extra money for the horse-racing industry alone should be a deal-breaker. It embodies the dubious political forces that have shaped the casino debate and will threaten the integrity of the casino licensing process outlined in the bill.

The decision is Patrick’s. If the governor is uncomfortable with the prospect of casino revenues being taken away from schools and given to tracks, of lawmakers winding up on casino payrolls, or of short-circuited local approval processes, he should reject the bill.

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