Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Slots Losers

As maddening, petty, and inept as I found New York state politics during the four years I lived in Brooklyn — particularly when it came to anything having to do with the Aqueduct racino or OTB — the explanation for the ostensibly irrational often lay in asking, cui bono? Because someone was usually, pretty nakedly, making out in campaign cash, political power, or patronage jobs. Not so in Massachusetts state politics, which are no less maddening, etc., for reasons that more often seem opaque, personal, or tribal.

Take, for instance, the apparently dead expanded gaming legislation. Never before, in almost two decades of debate, has Massachusetts come so close to allowing casinos and racinos. In the final hours of the legislative session on July 31, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing three casinos and two racetrack slots licenses. The Senate approved the same, two votes shy of a veto-proof margin. The governor, up for re-election, said he’d accept three casinos (his original stance), but only one racino, a compromise position he then backed off, returning the final bill with an amendment effectively killing racetrack slots. Explained Patrick of his reversal:

“We do this over and over again in the Commonwealth: We yield to the short-term interests of a few powerful people, and we set aside the long-term, best economic and social interests of the Commonwealth.”

(Let’s have a little fun with Deval Patrick’s campaign speak:

“We do this over and over again in [politics]: We yield to the short-term interests of [the upcoming election cycle], and we set aside the long-term, best economic and social interests of the [citizens].”

That really was too easy.)

There are those holding out hope that the legislature will be called back into session and that a resolution will be reached. I’d price that happening as a longshot so long the tote board tops out at 99-1. House leader Robert DeLeo — whose district includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland, and who’s expended tremendous political capital accomplishing more than anyone ever has on the issue — has dug in, insisting on two racinos. “Asking me to go further than that is truly unreasonable,” he told the Boston Globe. Senate president Therese Murray is skeptical a deal could be reached, and quietly, stubbornly opposes calling lawmakers back.

Meanwhile, Plainridge, the state’s sole harness track, has already announced layoffs. Suffolk Downs has made no statements, but the rumors about the track’s future are wild and ominous.

Cui bono? No one.

2:45 PM Addendum: Tweets @jenmontfort, “It’s just so disappointing to be so close and to let political tomfoolery (on ALL sides) get in the way.” Exactly. And yet, it’s hardly surprising. This is the state, after all, where tomfoolery once led to the simulcasting law expiring on the eve of the Florida Derby.


5 Comments

>> Suffolk Downs has made no statements,
>> but the rumors about the track’s future are wild and ominous.

Care to elaborate further about the “wild” part?

Posted by The_Knight_Sky racing on August 4, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

Patrick insists that ‘competitive bidding’ is needed in the racino licenses. Why not set a license fee that’s reasonable and make them pay it?

Why should the tracks get slots w/o a competitive bid?

1. Because you’re creating and saving not only the direct jobs at the track itself, but local grooms, feed suppliers, hay suppliers, horse breeders and others in this labor intensive industry that permeates throughout the state’s agriculture industry.

2. Seven hundred and fifty slots is a small slot parlor and, if there is no additional expansion possible, unattractive to casino management giants – which is also good for racing since the racino needs to be a racetrack with slots, not a slot palace with racing. Competitive bidding will be lucrative for the three destination resorts, NOT for two small slot parlors – and that’s what is best for the tracks and the state in any event. Keep the business locally owned and the money in the state.

Posted by Ted on August 4, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

Well said, Ted. I’d add that two seems about right. That’s one for Suffolk and Wonderland, already partnered, another for Plainridge and Raynham. That would hardly be the saturation Patrick claims to fear.

Sorry, Knight Sky. But this is a topic likely to come up again soon.

Posted by Jessica on August 4, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

It’s really too bad, as Richard Fields has done a good job keeping Suffolk going. He has been holding out hope for legalized gambling, but part of me thinks he wouldn’t be satisfied with just slots. I’d bet that he wants to bid on one of the casinos. He has a casino background.

Posted by Rich on August 5, 2010 @ 10:45 am

[...] expanded gaming debate here in Massachusetts (read an excellent recap at the Railbird blog here). To say that the mood has changed from cautiously optimistic to uncertain and weary would be an [...]

Posted by Please hold all tickets… | jenmontfort.com on August 9, 2010 @ 1:02 pm