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State gambling board seeks delay in oversight of racing

“These folks just don’t have any idea how to deal with these issues,” said Stephen Crosby, referring to small-town officials.
“These folks just don’t have any idea how to deal with these issues,” said Stephen Crosby, referring to small-town officials.Associated Press

The state’s gambling board is seeking to delay its takeover of the State Racing Commission, warning that the May deadline for the new regulators to assume oversight of racing could distract from the development of the casino industry in Massachusetts.

“We don’t think postponing hurts anybody, and it helps a lot,’’ commission chairman Stephen Crosby said at the panel’s second public meeting on Tuesday.

The commission, created by the 2011 expanded gambling law, is charged with writing the criteria against which casino development proposals will be judged and with choosing up to three winning proposals for gambling resorts and one proposal for a slot machine parlor.

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In addition, the commission is to take over other aspects of legalized gambling. The law set a May 20 date for assuming oversight of tracks and the racing industry.

But the new commission, which met for the first time April 10, has barely begun its work. The panel has almost no staff, and on Tuesday commissioners were still tinkering with the wording of their mission statement.

Crosby said he has spoken to legislators and Governor Deval Patrick’s administration about crafting a bill to delay the panel’s racing takeover. Legislative leaders have been reluctant to consider amending the casino bill, which passed last fall after years of wrangling. But Crosby said legislators have told him they could support a narrowly tailored fix that merely extends the deadline. The deadline cannot be extended by executive order or through any agreement among state agencies, Crosby said.

“A commission cannot delegate its authority,’’ he said.

Without a delay, the commission would be responsible for holding public hearings and setting racing policy as soon as next month, which he fears would slow down the panel’s main mission of attracting development proposals and shaping the casino industry in Massachusetts.

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As it lobbies for a delay, the commission is gathering information on racing in case it cannot put off the takeover, said Crosby.

On Tuesday, commissioners also discussed calls they are receiving from citizens and municipal officials unsure how to handle overtures from billion-dollar casino companies. Small-town officials, many of whom are unpaid part-timers, are “at sea’’ trying to manage development proposals from wealthy casino companies, said Crosby. “These folks just don’t have any idea how to deal with these issues,’’ he said.

Commissioner James McHugh said the panel needs to figure out how it can help answer questions about the casino development process without compromising its objectivity.

The commission said yesterday that it will host a day-long educational forum on casino administration, regulation, and enforcement on May 3 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Keynote speaker will be Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association. The public is invited.

The commission’s next regular meeting is April 24.


Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.