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Both sides of casino debate ready campaign moves

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News,Business,Gambling,Massachusetts

BOSTON (AP) — Groups on both sides of the casino debate are touting the start of their campaign operations this week, as voters are set to decide in November whether to repeal the state's casino law.

A pro-casino group called the "Committee to Protect Massachusetts Jobs" said Monday that they've been planning their campaign for the past three weeks and expect to launch "an extensive ground effort throughout the fall." The recently-formed political group is funded by gambling giants MGM Resorts International, Mohegan Sun and Penn National Gaming.

Campaign spokeswoman Justine Griffin said the campaign currently has eight people on staff. Wooten Johnson, who most recently managed Democrat Juliette Kayyem's unsuccessful bid for governor this year, serves as campaign manager.

The campaign has also launched a website— www.protectmassjobs.com — where it lists a number of prominent supporters, including nearly two dozen state lawmakers, a number of local chambers of commerce and business groups and labor union organizations.

Among their key campaign messages: that Massachusetts will "create 6,500 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs" with "solid wages and real benefits" by preserving the casino law and allowing gambling facilities to open.

On the other side of the casino debate, "Repeal the Casino Deal," which successfully pushed for the repeal question to be placed on the ballot, says it launched canvassing and field operations this past weekend.

Campaign spokesman Stephen Eisele said two dozen volunteers canvassed in the communities of Winthrop, Bourne, Lexington, East Longmeadow and Ludlow. Another dozen volunteers took part in phone banks from the campaign's Springfield and East Boston field offices.

Eisele said the campaign is focused on reaching out to undecided voters and those living in cities and towns that have not yet voted on local casino plans.

"The casino bosses want to make sure this campaign is about everything other than casinos - with a group that conveniently leaves casinos out of its title and website, materials and campaign theme which conveniently ignores the very real impacts this casino mess will have on communities," he said in an email.

Massachusetts lawmakers authorized the licensing of up to three Las Vegas-style resort casinos and one slot parlor in 2011.

MGM Resorts has been granted the state's first casino license for its $800 million Springfield project, pending the outcome of the November ballot question. Penn National Gaming won the slot parlor license and is currently building a $225 million expansion to the Plainridge Racecourse, which hosts harness racing track in Plainville.

Mohegan Sun is competing with Wynn Resorts for the lone Boston-area casino license, which is expected to be awarded by state gambling regulators in September.

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