Lobbying by Mass. casino firms declines in 2012

|
News,Business

BOSTON (AP) — The gambling industry spent less on lobbying Beacon Hill lawmakers last year than in 2011, when Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law allowing the state to license up to three resort casinos and a single slots parlor in Massachusetts.

A review of state lobbying records by The Associated Press found the industry spent nearly $2.3 million trying to sway state elected officials in 2012, down from $3.1 million spent by the industry on lobbying in 2011.

Despite the decline, companies hoping to land one of the state's coveted casino licenses spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to win over state lawmakers.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe topped the list in 2012, spending more than half a million dollars on lobbying, nearly double the $277,000 the tribe spent in 2011. The tribe is hoping to build a gambling resort in Taunton.

One reason the Mashpee Wampanoag's lobbying efforts spiked last year is because — unlike other casino companies — the tribe is negotiating a compact with the state that must be approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor.

Second on the list is Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which spent nearly $244,000 on lobbying efforts in 2012. That's less than half the nearly $657,000 the company spent lobbying during 2011. The company runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack and is hoping to turn the East Boston facility into a destination casino.

Officials from Suffolk declined to comment. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did not immediately return a request for comment.

Since 2007, the gambling industry has doled out $13.7 million on lobbying efforts, peaking in 2011, the year that House and Senate lawmakers approved the casino bill. The bulk of the money is spent on the salaries of paid lobbyists, many of whom also donate to the campaigns of state lawmakers.

Since Patrick signed the casino bill, much of the attention has shifted to local cities and towns, which must approve a bid for a license, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has the final say over awarding the three casino licenses and one slots parlor license. The shift away from the Statehouse might also account for the dip in lobbying activity.

Among the other top spenders on lobbying were firms hoping to open gambling venues.

MGM Resorts International, which has proposed a resort casino and entertainment complex in downtown Springfield, spent $150,000 on lobbying in 2012. Penn National Gaming spent $50,000. Penn, in partnership with Peter Pan Bus Lines chairman Peter Picknelly, has proposed a destination casino in the city's North End.

Two other firms with eyes on a possible casino in western Massachusetts also continued to spend money on lobbying.

Northeast Gaming Group Inc., an associate of Northeast Realty, which owns land in Palmer where Mohegan Sun hopes to build a casino, reported spending $45,000 on lobbying last year. Mohegan Sun spent $73,800.

Development Associates LLC, a subsidiary of Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn's firm, spent nearly $200,000 on lobbying last year. Wynn hopes to build on a site in Everett.

Besides three casino licenses, the law also allows the gaming commission to award a single license for a slots parlor.

Mass Gaming & Entertainment, which is seeking one of the slots licenses, spent more than $111,000 on lobbying. Plainridge Racecourse, which is also hoping to open a slots parlor, spent about $73,000.

Despite the yearslong effort to pass the expanded gambling law in 2011 and the millions spent on lobbying Beacon Hill, the state is still awaiting the opening of its first casino or slots parlor, which lawmakers hope will generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue for the state's coffers.

The gaming commission is hoping to award the single slots parlor license in the fall and the first of the casino licenses early next year.

View article comments Leave a comment