Mass. Senate approves addiction warnings for slots
Senate also adopts measure to allow bar happy hours
Any future gamblers pulling a slot machine lever in Massachusetts would stare directly at a sticker showing their low odds of winning and the number for an addiction hotline, under an amendment that passed the Senate yesterday as part of a bill to legalize casinos.
The measure, similar to one approved by the House last month, was a rare victory for gambling opponents hoping to tweak the casino bill on its way to near-certain passage.
In a bit of a surprise, the Senate also passed a happy-hour amendment yesterday that would give all bars and restaurants in the state the same ability as the proposed casinos to give out free drinks as part of promotions. That would be a departure from a happy-hour ban that took effect in 1984, which forbids promotions involving free or discounted alcoholic beverages.
After swift passage in the House last month, with very little debate, the Senate has taken a slower route to discussing about 180 amendments, prolonged in part by a schedule that has included several days off between debates. But the result is likely to be similar: a yes vote. The bill, supported by leading legislators and Governor Deval Patrick, would authorize three full casinos and a slot machine parlor. The Senate expects to vote on a bill tomorrow after taking a break from debate today. .
Though leading lawmakers agree on the broad issues, House and Senate members will have to hash out differences on several details before submitting a bill to Patrick.
The House bill does not include the happy-hour measure, for example, meaning it may not become law.
The amendment’s sponsor, Senator Robert L. Hedlund, Republican of Weymouth, owns a restaurant in Braintree. He said bars and restaurants will be hurt by competition from new casinos and should at least be allowed to compete under the same rules regarding free alcohol.
“We’re carving out all kinds of exceptions for the casinos,’’ Hedlund said. “But this is one that hits home because we know’’ casinos will take business from existing bars and restaurants, he said.
Gambling opponents proposed a number of other provisions that failed, including a ban on casinos handing out free drinks, requirements that casino builders live up to the federal government’s most stringent environmental standards, and several amendments that would broaden the number of residents who would vote on local ballot questions required before developers can build casinos.
“We’re striving almost to create politically correct casinos in Massachusetts,’’ said Senator Michael R. Knapik, a Westfield Republican, who argued against several changes proposed by opponents.
Opponents suffered a big blow on an amendment that would have affected Suffolk Downs’s proposal to build a casino in East Boston.
The bill passed by the House would require developers to win approval in a local referendum before building a casino in a city or town. But the bill includes one exception: In cities with at least 125,000 residents, only the neighborhood or ward in which a casino is proposed would get a vote. The provision is most likely to affect Boston, where Suffolk Downs wants to build a casino in East Boston.
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, filed an amendment that would require developers to win ballot approval from an entire city, regardless of size. She argued that everyone in Boston would be affected by the costs of a casino, including the need to divert police resources. She said limiting the right of approval to East Boston residents amounted to “taxation without representation.’’
“I’m asking you to please not disenfranchise my constituents,’’ Chang-Diaz said.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin raised a similar objection in a memo to the Senate last month.
But Senator Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston, also a Democrat, argued that the neighborhood is on an island, separate from the rest of the city, and has a history of being told what is best for it by others. That includes the construction of Logan International Airport, which required the taking of homes and park land, he said.
“They took all that to build an airport; no vote, people didn’t have any say,’’ said Petruccelli, whose personal charity was aided by a $6,000 donation from the owner of Suffolk Downs. He has said that it had no influence on his position on expanded gambling or his support for language restricting a vote on casinos to East Boston residents.