Nobody Will Jump the Gun on Gambling While the House Slogs Through the Budget

Friday, April 15, 2011

When the Massachusetts House of Representatives convenes on Monday, April 25, to begin formal deliberations on its version of the new state budget, there will be no back-door attempts to inject casino gambling into the debate. That's because the Order Relative to Special Procedures for Consideration of the General Appropriations Bill for the Fiscal Year 2012, the one-page set of rules adopted by the House earlier this week establishing the parameters of these deliberations, contains a stipulation that no amendment to the budget "that pertains to the subjects of casino gaming, slot machines or video gaming shall be in order..."

This was needed because legislators in both branches have often resorted to budget amendments and outside budget sections to try to get things enacted that have nothing to do, per se, with appropriations. The budget has, time and again, proven to be a good short-cut. Determined legislators will take it, if it's available to them. Were it not for the no-gaming rule this budget season, you can be sure at least a couple of reps with strong pro-casino and/or pro-slots credentials would have filed amendments advancing gambling in some fashion, if for no other reason than to show the folks back in their districts they were standing up for the jobs and putative economic benefits that a casino or three would bring.

But any pro-gambling amendment popping up during the April 25-29 work week would have led almost certainly to long, contentious hours of debate and parliamentary maneuvering. It would, once again, "suck all the oxygen out of the room," as legislative leaders lamented when describing last year's futile casino debate.

So everyone basically agreed this week that there will no sparring matches over gambling when the House gets down to the budget. It was no coincidence, however, that the day after Ways and Means unveiled the House budget, the legislature's Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies announced that it would consider all recently filed gambling bills during a hearing on Wednesday, May 4, in Gardner Auditorium, the State House's largest meeting space. This hearing will begin after the House is through with its version of the budget but before the Senate has begun work on its version. Read the announcement on the May 4 hearing as a reassuring message to all who favor casinos that the legislature is serious about grappling with expanded gambling sooner, rather than later, during the 2011-2012 session.

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