Shirley Leung

Is Deval Patrick all in on casinos?

Deval Patrick.
Deval Patrick.Josh Reynolds/Associated Press

Is Deval Patrick all in on casinos?

Last week, the governor reminded us that he cares about his gambling palaces when he picked up the phone and asked gambling commissioner Stephen Crosby to delay his decision on whether Boston qualifies as a host community. It was the first time the two had spoken on casino issues since the governor appointed Crosby to the post three years ago.

To the rest of us, it came as a shock because the casino law has come under so much fire — a movement to repeal it, lawsuits over the licensing process, residents upset about the casino next door — that you’d think Patrick would have long ago come to its rescue.


But was the call really about saving casinos, or was he just doing a favor for his new BFF Marty Walsh, who needed help slowing down the licensing process?

No one expects Patrick and his groupies to trumpet legalized gambling as part of his legacy. His greatest hits list will be all about the $1 billion life sciences initiative, the creation of a clean-tech sector, and improving education.

But since winning a hard-fought battle to legalize gambling in 2011, Governor Slots seems to have washed his hands of the controversial law.

It’s as though he borrowed a page from the political handbook of his predecessor, Mitt Romney. Universal health care, did I do that? And we know how well that turned out for him.

Patrick is not taking any meetings with casino players, even as they prepare to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and create thousands of jobs in our state. The message has been loud and clear: Have questions? See Crosby or my economic development secretary, Greg Bialecki. I’m done with this.

But should gambling companies be put in a different category than other businesses looking to expand in Massachusetts? How are they different from Bristol Myers-Squibb or Hainan Airlines?


Patrick won’t even meet with the mayor of Everett on anything related to the gleaming $1.6 billion monument to gambling Steve Wynn wants to build in that city.

Just as I was wondering about how Patrick could develop an allergic reaction to casinos, Brendan Ryan, his chief of staff, got on the phone Tuesday to set me straight.

Patrick, he told me, still thinks it makes economic sense to build casinos, and has largely stayed out of the licensing process because he’s treating it like a competitive bid for a public contract. The governor doesn’t meet prospective bidders for, say the commuter rail contract, to avoid the appearance he is favoring one proposal over another.

As for why Patrick decided to get involved last week, Ryan said it was because the governor has been watching tensions grow between Walsh and Crosby and thought an intervention was necessary.

It was about “de-escalating a relationship,” said Ryan. “The governor thought he could help take the temperature down.”

Crosby thought the governor’s actions were appropriate because he was weighing in on procedure, not making a decision. If I were Crosby, I would have steam coming out of my ears: Deval, I got this.

If you really go back, Patrick has always been lukewarm on gambling, but he doesn’t have moral objections to it. He used to tell stories about going to Foxwoods with his late mother, Emily, to play the slots.


During his first term, when his Cabinet presented him the pros and cons of pushing through casino legislation, Patrick ultimately made the call to forge ahead. He fought with House speaker at the time, Sal DiMasi, who vehemently opposed casinos. But on the day of a crucial House vote in 2008, Patrick slipped away to New York to shop a proposal for his autobiography. The gambling bill got crushed.

As the Great Recession tightened its grip in 2010, the House, now under Speaker Bob DeLeo, dusted off the gambling legislation and pitched it as a jobs bill. The governor supported the move, but later effectively killed the legislation because he wanted one slot parlor, not two. It was rather convenient, in the midst of a reelection campaign, because Patrick’s liberal base never liked gambling anyway.

The next year, the House came back with a bill the governor could get behind — three resort casinos and one slot parlor.

On the topic of casinos, Patrick keeps the best poker face of them all. We just never saw it coming.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.