08/03/2010 3:18PM

Massachussetts governor rejects slots at racetracks


Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick returned a casino gaming bill back to the state legislature Monday with provisions for racetrack slot parlors stripped away, apparently killing the issue for another year.

Hours before a midnight Saturday deadline, legislators overwhelmingly passed a bill allowing three resort casinos and two slot parlors open to bidding by the state’s four racetracks. The bill was championed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Democrat whose district covers Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park and whose father worked at Suffolk’s Turf Club.

The action by Patrick, who opposes racinos, means the legislature would need to return for a special session to debate or attempt an override. The state Senate was two votes shy of a veto-proof two-thirds majority and is not expected to be called back to Boston.

Suffolk Downs had plans to bid on any available slots licenses, executives there said. Majority owner Richard Fields successfully developed casinos in Florida prior to buying into the East Boston track. Suffolk also has a partnership agreement in place with neighboring Wonderland not to compete for a slots license. Wonderland is closed for live greyhound racing and offers only simulcasting.

Racinos have been the main contention throughout the debate, with DeLeo’s original plan guaranteeing the state’s four tracks slots licenses. The Senate passed a bill without racinos and set off weeks of negotiations to craft a compromise. Patrick, who opposed racinos even when his own casino plan was defeated three years ago, offered to accept one competitively bid slot parlor in exchange for the three resort casinos as well as action on several other bills held up in the legislature by the casino debate. After passing a bill with two racinos, Deleo, flanked by dozens of lawmakers, held a press conference promising political fallout if the governor vetoed the plan. Slots backers also hoped Gov. Patrick would take advantage of the law’s wording to take control of the board that would award slots licenses and sign the bill as is.Patrick later downplayed the bill’s language and reiterated his opposition to the racinos before returning the bill. Slots supporters, especially organized labor leaders, were pushing to convince state senators to reconsider, but likely the earliest the issue could come up again would be January after November’s elections.