EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 1, 2010

Gambling lobby spending big in Massachusetts

BOSTON (AP) — The clash over casino gambling in Massachusetts is drawing a torrent of lobbying dollars to Beacon Hill.

The amount spent by firms, unions and interest groups hoping to influence the gambling debate has grown from just more than $800,000 in 2006 to more than $2 million in 2009, according to an Associated Press review of records filed with the secretary of state's office.

The vast majority of the lobbying dollars are being spent by groups hoping to get a piece of the gambling pie if lawmakers ultimately vote to approve an expanded gaming bill.

The surge in lobbying comes as the push for casinos, slot machines or a combination of both nears a critical stage. House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters last week he plans to file a casino bill sometime in the next two to three weeks.

DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said he hopes House lawmakers will take a vote on the bill before beginning their budget debate this spring.

The increase in lobbying dollars spent is matched by a surge in the number of firms and other groups willing to hire their own representatives in Massachusetts to try to influence the debate on Beacon Hill.

In 2006, just 19 firms and groups were registered with the state as having hired lobbyists to represent them on casinos and gaming issues.

In 2009, that number had nearly doubled to 34. They include out-of-state firms such as the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which spent $112,500 on lobbyists in Massachusetts last year, and Harrah's Operating Company Inc., which spent $60,000.

Harrah's, also located in Las Vegas, operates Caesars Palace among other venues.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse L.L.C., which runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, was among the top-spending firms, having shelled out $336,000 on lobbyists in 2009.

Calls to Las Vegas Sands, Harrah's and Suffolk Downs were not immediately returned.

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