10/07/2005 12:00AM

Mass. slots bill clears one hurdle

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The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday approved a bill giving the state's four parimutuel facilities a monopoly on slot-machine gambling, but the legislation faces an uphill battle in the state's House and with Gov. Mitt Romney.

The bill, passed by a 26-9 vote, would allow Suffolk Downs, the harness track Plainridge Racecourse and two greyhound tracks to operate 2,000 slot machines each.

Though Massachusetts racetracks have lobbied for slots for several years, no bill has ever been approved by either house of the legislature.

Supporters of the bill said that it would generate $350 million in state revenue annually through a 60 percent tax on gambling profits, plus a one-time $100 million license fee for each facility. Using those estimates, the four racetracks would retain approximately $230 million a year.

Romney, who is considering a bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, has reportedly been under pressure from conservative groups in primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to oppose expanded gambling. He has said he will veto the bill.