ince the national economy started its nosedive in the summer of 2008, governors and state lawmakers across the country have been pushing new and expanded gambling measures to boost revenues, either for general state coffers or particular accounts, like education funding.
In 2010, state legislatures are considering some 60 gambling bills, and so far, just under half have failed, and a quarter have been enacted, with the bulk still pending, according to bill tracking data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislators. Every state Hawaii and Utah has some form of legalized gambling to raise revenue.
Many states are not in the position of weighing such a large legalized gambling plan as Massachusetts. Instead of establishing a structured state gambling system with resort-style casinos, many of the bills propose expansions to state lottery systems, live racing and slot machines. And in other states that already have legalized slots, lawmakers are pushing for table games such as and blackjack.
One example is Delaware, where the governor signed a bill into law in late January to legalize table games. That move was a direct response to neighboring Pennsylvania, which took the same step a few weeks earlier.
Massachusetts has been feeling the pressure from Rhode Island and Connecticut, with casino proponents arguing that the state can’t afford to let its residents pour millions into out-of-state coffers.
The American Gaming Association lists Connecticut as the nation’s fourth-largest casino market, with an annual revenue of us$ 1.45 billion. Rhode Island doesn’t make the top-20 list, but Yonkers, New York, another northeast location, does.
Mandy Rafool, the gambling expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures, noted that the first concerted push for expanding gambling, especially with Vegas style casinos, started in the early 1990s in the South. ‘‘It was very successful, as far as generating revenue’’ Rafool said.
That's why Massachusetts feels some pressure to act now, with Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York pushing for casino revenue in their own states. State Senate leaders have said they believe casino gambling would generate us$ 1.8 billion in economic activity a year for Massachusetts, and create 14,000 permanent jobs.
The Senate is expected to take up its gambling bill on Wednesday and vote on it by the end of the week. On Monday, casino opponents met with state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a leading lawmaker in the gambling push. Kathleen Conley Norbut, president of United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts, said she believes the legislation is an “expedited bill with a lot of special interests behind it.”
The group says legalized casino gambling is a “predatory” option that will not solve the state’s unemployment and revenue problems. Currently, only 12 states have legalized casino gambling, while 13 have slots at racetracks.