MASS. BACK ON RADAR; PRO-CASINO FORCES PUMPING IN THE CASH

Pro-gambling groups are stepping up their lobbying in Massachusetts, and perhaps it’s no surprise that support for legalizing casinos is on the rise in the state Legislature.

Reporting by The Associated Press shows that proponents spent more during the first six months of 2009 than in all of 2005, surpassing $777,000, and were on a pace to match the $1.57 million spent in 2008 when the state’s racetracks were locked in a failed effort to defeat a ballot question to end greyhound racing.

They contributed more than $100,000 to lawmakers’ election campaigns over the same period.

Over the last four and a half years, pro-gambling groups - including casino developers, racetracks, poker player groups and gambling technology firms - have spent more than $5 million lobbying in Massachusetts, according to The AP.

Both Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo now say they support large-scale casinos similar to neighboring Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. This is a major turnabout from only a year or so ago, when then-Speaker Sal DeMasi rejected a casino proposal put forward by Gov. Deval Patrick.

The effects of the recession and a widening state budget gap are playing a part as well.

In testimony before a legislative committee in October, casino supporters said that with legalization the state could expect to collect anywhere from $170 million to $500 million a year in taxes.

Another committee heard estimates that casinos could create between 1,000 and 10,000 temporary and permanent jobs.

GAMBLING ADDICTS RESPOND TO DRUGS

Researchers say it may be possible to treat pathological gamblers with some of the same medications given to drug addicts and alcoholics to decrease their urges and increase inhibitions.

A team led by University of Minnesota Psychiatry Professor Jon Grant, whose work is funded in part by the casino industry, presented the findings at last month’s annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

The team used tasks that measure cognition to identify what motivates extreme types of gambling behavior. They enrolled men and women with a diagnosis of pathological gambling into three medication studies. Participants were further separated into two sub-groups: those who reported that they gamble when driven by an uncontrollable “urge,” and those who showed no normal inhibition of impulsive behaviors.

In the first group, participants responded well to treatment with drugs such as naltrexone, which block the brain opioid system. People with a family history of addiction responded even better to the opioid blocker, which has been shown in other studies to decrease the urge to use substances such as alcohol.

In the second group, drugs such as memantine, which block certain receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate, showed evidence of success. These medications act on a specific enzyme in the brain to decrease its function, which researchers say bolsters a person’s ability to inhibit desires.

“By understanding these different sub-types, we are able to target the core biology of the illness with individualized treatment,” said Grant. “When we look at pathological gambling as an addiction and try to understand the sense of urge and inhibitions, we are able to target the treatment with medication more effectively.”

TRIBES VOTE IN NEW LEADERSHIP IN CALIFORNIA

In what is seen as a political shakeup of the leadership of California’s powerful $7 billion-plus tribal gambling industry, members of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association have elected a new chairman and treasurer.

Daniel Tucker, leader of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in San Diego, was elected chairman, and Steve Stallings, a member of the tribal council of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, was elected treasurer. Stallings also is senior vice president and director of the Native American Banking Services group for Wells Fargo.

Elected by a 7-4 vote, Tucker defeated Anthony Miranda of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, based near Temecula in Riverside County, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Miranda has been chairman since 2003.

Stallings replaces Dennis Hendricks of Tuolumne, who did not seek re-election.

“There was a sense it was time for change,” said Michael Lombardi, a gaming commissioner for the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, in an interview with The Desert Sun of Palm Springs.

“It also may be that CNIGA felt it was at an apex with political strength when Tucker was chair,” he said. “There has been a perception that CNIGA had lost its edge.”

Tucker served four terms as chairman of CNIGA and led the association at a time when the historic initiatives propositions 5 and 1A were passed and the growth of tribal gaming in California soared.

Tribal members have said the economy and rising membership costs also may have been factors, according to The Desert Sun.

Also cited as a reason was a recent attempt by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians to advance a controversial intrastate online poker initiative with California card rooms, which competing tribes opposed.

CNIGA’s 2010 membership numbers 23 tribes, according to a spokeswoman for the group. But several important tribes have left in recent years, including the Agua Caliente, Cabazon and Twentynine Palms.

UP IN SMOKE: LAWSUIT DROPPED AGAINST CAESARS

Attorneys have dropped a lawsuit claiming Caesars Palace workers in Las Vegas are exposed to dangerous second-hand tobacco smoke.

According to a report by the Las Vegas Sun, Jay Edelson, an attorney with the Chicago firm of KamberEdelson, said the suit filed July 22 in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas has been dismissed because of circumstances in which the firm could no longer represent the lead plaintiff, a former blackjack dealer.

Edelson said the firm plans to file another suit against the Strip resort and its parent company, Harrah’s Entertainment, in behalf of a different plaintiff.

In the meantime, the firm continues to pursue a similar case against Wynn Las Vegas.

In the Caesars lawsuit the plaintiff said she quit her job back in June on the advice of her doctor. The suit says pre-cancerous cells were found in her stomach, and that over the years she was exposed to second-hand smoke that caused her to suffer sore throats, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, nausea and other ailments.

The lawsuit sought to represent as a class all former, current and future Caesars employees exposed to unsafe levels of second-hand smoke and sought an order requiring the property to take “reasonable measures” to protect its employees. According to the Sun, Edelson didn’t identify the “outside forces” that interfered with the litigation, but he did mention in the context of the Wynn case that the plaintiff’s attorneys were “deeply disappointed” by comments by Joseph Carbon, director of a Transport Workers Union local, that were supportive of Wynn’s efforts to reduce second-hand smoke. In 2007 elections the TWU won the right to represent some 1,100 dealers at Caesars Palace and Wynn. The union is close to signing a contract with Wynn.

A rendering shows the considerable scope of Hard Rock International’s new Dominican resort.

Piece of the Rock lands this spring on a resort beach in the Dominican

Hard Rock International and Palace Resorts are partnering to bring a Hard Rock-themed casino to the Dominican Republic.

The rebranding of Palace’s Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, located at the eastern tip of the island at Macao Beach in Punta Cana, is scheduled for completion this spring, when a new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will open with a 48,000-square-foot gaming floor fitted with 457 slot machines and 40 table games, a race and sports book, a poker room and a VIP lounge.

In addition to an 1,800-room hotel, the resort’s expansive 121 acres will contain 11 swimming pools, a 1,200-seat amphitheater, 65,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a 15,000-square-foot “Body Rock” fitness center, a 60,000-square-foot “Rock Spa,” plus two tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, child-care services, a hair salon, retail outlets and three floating “wedding pavilions”.

The property also will house one of Hard Rock’s signature collections of authentic music memorabilia.

“Punta Cana is a world-class location and one of the Caribbean’s top travel destinations, and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is a perfect complement to the region,” said Minister of Tourism Francisco Javier Garcia. “I am confident that Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana will have a significant economic impact on our country’s growing tourism.”

“We look forward to bringing the excitement of U.S.-style gaming and our industry expertise to the Dominican Republic,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment. “Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana will quickly become the premier gaming destination in the Caribbean.”

The Seminole Tribe of Florida owns Hard Rock International.

The Hard Rock brand is attached to 158 venues in 53 countries, including 12 casino hotels. Hard Rock International is in the throes of an aggressive plan of global expansion, with hotels and casinos on the drawing board for Panama, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hungary and the United States.

Palace Resorts operates 11 seafront resort hotels in Mexico in addition to the Punta Cana location.