Casinos: The Battle Lines are Being Drawn

As if criticism from casino opponents weren’t enough, Gov. Deval Patrick got a double dose of heat in the press this morning from State Treasurer Tim Cahill. Despite being a casino advocate, Cahill chided the Governor in the Herald for not including him and legislators in the casino bill’s planning phase, and said that the Governor’s legislation had “no chance of success.”

On the other side of the news stand, Cahill showed up again in a Globe story pointing out a serious drafting error in the legislation — a $73 million error — that would drastically underfund programs that were supposed to help communities mitigate the ancillary cost of casinos (traffic and crime, among others), as well as combat public health issues like compulsive gambling. At the end of the story, Cahill pronounced that it’s likely the funds will come up short even after the error is corrected.

The negative press is piling up for Patrick, but according to at least one member of the state legislature, it’s not time to administer last rites. State Representative Brian Wallace of South Boston, a proponent of the legislation, strongly disagreed with Cahill’s analysis that the bill was dead on arrival, arguing instead that its supporters were simply holding their cards close to the vest for fear of crossing Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, an outspoken casino opponent.

“We’re in the fight,” Wallace said. “There’s no question about it.”

“Timmy’s not a state rep, he’s not a state senator,” Wallace continued, going on to suggest that the treasurer’s comments were a result of having his “ego bruised” by not being more heavily involved in drafting the legislation.

Wallace acknowledged that Cahill was correct when he told the Herald that nobody in a House leadership position was carrying the flag on the casinos, but did say he and Representative Martin Walsh will be “spearheading the drive” to push the bill through the House.

“That’s just the nature of the beast,” he said. “If you’re in leadership, you’re not going to jump up and smack the speaker in the face.”

Wallce said that he and Walsh will, “be counting votes, we’ll be talking to legislatures, trying to give them the other side.”

As for the drafting error, Wallace said it was an easy fix, but acknowledged that, “it doesn’t help” to be giving his opponents more ammunition. This is the larger point. With each new fumble by the Patrick administration, it becomes harder and harder for pro-casino legislators to stand strongly behind him.

A drafting error in a 77-page piece of legislation is understandable, but it becomes significantly more embarrassing when you’ve already waffled on whether or not you want a casino in Boston, and also managed to enrage the state treasurer in the process. Especially when that state treasurer is of the same party and wants to be on board with you.

“It’s a mine field up here,” acknowledges Wallace. “It’s tough to walk through that mine field without blowing up.”