When Beacon Hill lawmakers finally adopted a bill to legalize casino gambling, it wasn’t just a victory for would-be high rollers or Massachusetts’ cash-strapped cities and towns.
It was also a long-awaited – and pricey – win for a casino industry that had longed hoped for a toehold in the state.
To press its case at the State House and win over wavering lawmakers, the industry hired a small army of lobbyists who, year after year, steadily made the argument for expanded gambling in Massachusetts.
In just the past five years, the tally for all that lobbying topped $11.4 million. Overall spending on lobbying steadily increased year after year as the pressure built to approve a bill.
In 2007, the total lobbying tab on the casino issue was nearly $1.3 million. By 2011, that grew to more than $3.1 million.
Many of the companies that lobbied hardest for the expanded gambling law are now actively pursuing the three casino licenses created by the legislation.
The company that easily spent the most on lobbying was Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack and is hoping to turn the East Boston facility into a destination casino. From 2007 to 2011, the track spent more than $2.8 million on lobbying.
Another big spender was the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which also is hoping to win one of the three casino licenses. During the past five years, the tribe spent nearly $850,000 on lobbying expenses. The law gives the Mashpee Wampanoags until July 31 to negotiate a gaming compact in the southeast part of the state.
There was also plenty of out-of-state lobbying money flowing into Massachusetts.
Development Associates, LLC, a Las Vegas-based subsidiary of casino developer Steve Wynn, spent more than $863,000 on lobbying in just the past three years. Wynn is hoping to win one of the licenses. He’s joined up with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to propose a casino in Foxboro.
Las Vegas Sands Corp., another casino company, has spent nearly $473,000 on lobbying during the same time period.
Two other companies hoping to land casino licenses also doled out hefty sums on lobbying.
Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc. spent nearly $197,000 on lobbying during the past five years while Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, which is eyeing a casino for Brimfield, spent $60,000.
The money spent on lobbying went to a range of activities.
Of the $850,600 that Sterling Suffolk Racecourse spent on lobbying just in 2010, about half – or $426,960 – went to pay the salary of lobbyists including seven separate firms and two individuals. The remaining money – about $423,640 – went to such items as printing and public relations consulting to advertising, cellphone bills, bus rentals, hats and T-shirts and the creation of a website to support the casino push.
William Mulrow, chairman of Suffolk Downs Board of Directors, defended the lobbying push, saying the 77-year-old track wants to maintain its legacy “as the state’s premier gaming destination.”
“Suffolk Downs continues to work with community groups, neighbors and others to answer questions and provide information on how a world-class resort casino here would create thousands of jobs, boost the local economy and invest in local transportation improvements,” Mulrow said in a statement.
Lawmakers went to great lengths in the legislation to insulate themselves from any decisions about who gets a casino license. Those decisions fall exclusively to a yet-unnamed five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The law gives the commission the power not only to choose which casino proposals get the coveted licenses but also to regulate and investigate the new gambling facilities.