When it comes to bringing casinos to Massachusetts, buyer’s remorse could be brewing on Beacon Hill. But the remorseful prefer to remain anonymous — out of loyalty to House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Loyalty to DeLeo helped bring gambling to Massachusetts in the first place. For years, efforts to pass expanded gambling were blocked by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. DiMasi resigned and was later convicted on federal corruption charges. With DeLeo in charge, the House passed a casino bill, 123 to 32, in September 2011.
Nearly 50 lawmakers flip-flopped from their vote against a similar proposal in 2008. DeLeo, one of the flip-floppers, argued that Massachusetts should embrace any means available to create jobs after the Great Recession. He also favored bringing gambling to the Suffolk Downs racetrack in his district. The Senate agreed, and Governor Deval Patrick signed the measure into law in November 2011.
Today, the economic debate is shifting. Atlantic City casinos are imploding, victims of an over-saturated market. In a thriving economy, gambling jobs look less attractive than they did in a recession hangover.
The politics are shifting, too. Voters rejected casinos in several locations, including East Boston; DeLeo, Patrick, and Senate President Therese Murray have all said they wouldn’t want a casino in their backyards.
Still, lawmakers are loath to start second-guessing DeLeo’s pet priority. “I would take tremendous pleasure” in a casino repeal, said one lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous — and added that DeLeo faces enough unpleasant music from the federal trial involving former probation commissioner John O’Brien.
The same federal prosecutors who put DiMasi in prison prosecuted O’Brien for allegedly trading jobs for legislative favors. To make the case against O’Brien, prosecutors threw DeLeo into the mix, saying he was part of the scheme, even though he was never charged with any crime.