State budget woes helps casino proponents move discussion forward

Massachusetts lawmakers held a public hearing this week to discuss the possibility of expanded gambling.

The discussion came as Gov. Deval Patrick signed a fiscal 2010 budget sharply cutting government services and also raising the sales tax by 25 percent. Gambling proponents say those moves underscore the importance of capturing some of the estimated $900 million in revenue thought to be gambled each year by Bay State residents at Connecticut casinos.

Patrick has said casino gambling could earn the state as much as $600 million in one-time fees and $400 million in yearly taxes and would create 20,000 new jobs.

Senate President Therese Murray says she expects the Legislature to act on a bill this fall.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said measures to guard against criminal activity need to be strengthened and revised. She noted particularly that laws relating to money laundering, wiretapping and criminal conspiracy need to be reviewed and corrected to encompass situations that gambling may cause to arise.

She also called for regulation and auditing procedures to be in place and tested before casinos begin operation, and she asked the lawmakers to earmark funds from gaming revenues to cover government expenses at agencies that will acquire additional watchdog responsibilities if gambling is expanded, including her own.