Massachusetts Casinos: Crapped Out

The final version of the casino bill released from the House-Senate committee late last night proves once again that what most State House cynics lack is imagination. While most attention was focused on Weymouth Senator Robert Hedlund’s happy-hour amendment, a petty trinket which would count as controversial in no other state in the U.S. besides Utah, negotiators were carrying the safe out the front door in plain sight.

First, the final version of the bill actually carves out even more money to subsidize the state’s horse tracks. On top of the cut of annual revenues the original agreement provided for, the compromise legislation hands these old nags an additional 5 percent of one-time licensing revenues, an amount which could easily exceed $15 million. To be fair, that’s only real money if you’re an ordinary citizen — on Beacon Hill, that’s barely table stakes for a decent boondoggle, and surely not an amount worth getting into a fight over.

Second, why risk scotching the whole thing when the bill itself is practically a jobs plan for ex-state officials? Where the Senate version of the bill originally required elected officials to wait five years after leaving office before going to work in the casino industry, the final agreement reduced that to 12 whole months. So instead of sitting there in your law office watching your entire Rolodex go out of date, you spend a year lecturing at UMass and catching up with old friends while waiting for the job offers to come in. It’s the one casino game where the player can’t lose.