Cahill Calls for Slot Parlors

Treasurer Tim Cahill will tommorow call for the licensing of at least three slot parlors in Massachusetts. These operations would be much less than the destination casinos envisioned in Governor Patrick’s original gaming proposal, but would have the advantage of a quicker turnaround. From the Globe:

Cahill, who is prepared to discuss the proposal at a legislative hearing today and fully unveil it at a speech tomorrow, estimates the state could reap up to $244 million annually by collecting a 27 percent tax on revenue from the slot machines, according to two state treasury officials.

In addition, licensing fees for 15- to 20-year operating rights could bring in between $2 billion and $3.3 billion in up-front payments, according to the two treasury officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity be cause the plan hasn’t been made public. The figures are significantly higher than the governor’s 2007 estimate, which was $600 million to $900 million.

“We think there is a market for this,” said one of the treasury officials. “There’s no appetite for casinos because nobody wants to – nor do they have the funds to – build the infrastructure. But for this particular market there is an appetite. At some point it’s going to happen, and we have to capitalize on it.”

Cahill’s plan mimics the Governor’s casino plan on the issue of placement, and envisions non casino bidders for the licenses. That part of the plan will have to be explained further. It also does not call for slots at the state’s tracks. Cahill’s idea will run into some fierce resistance from gambling foes, who point to the slide being experienced by the gaming industry nationwide.

But amid the economic downturn, critics of gambling need look no farther than Rhode Island for an indication that slot machines aren’t a panacea. Twin River, a combined racetrack and casino operated at the former Lincoln Greyhound Park, is on the brink of bankruptcy and state lawmakers have been considering ways to keep it open, including purchasing the track.

In Maryland, voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that allows up to 15,000 machines at five sites, but developers have bid for only 6,550 machines.

Cahill will have to deal with a Speaker who wants slots at tracks, as well as a Governor who will not be inclined to support a plan put forth by a potential rival. But it will push the debate further towards acceptance of some form of gaming in the near future. Cahill will testify before a legislative hearing tommorow, and outline his proposal before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce tommorow. Read the Globe story here.

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