Casino gambling tries to make way into Massachusetts

Casino gambling interests are increasingly determined to set up shop in Massachusetts. MGM Grand Hotels Inc., the Las Vegas-based gambling casino operation, recently purchased a 58-acre choice waterfront site south of Boston in the town of Hull, Mass., on which it aims to erect a $78 million convention and gaming complex.

Less than a week later residents of Hull voted 4,988 to 128 at a special town meeting to petition state lawmakers to clear the way for the controversial project.

Being sought is a measure both legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts and allowing Hull to license such an enterprise.

Similar measures involving Hull, the town of Adams in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, and other resort areas of the commonwealth have been pushed unsuccessfully by local and Bay State gambling enthusiasts for more than a decade.

Five such proposals had been under consideration in the state legislature earlier this session but were temporarily shifted to a legislative back burner in mid-April when sponsors concluded they lacked sufficient support.

Their efforts had been dealt what was then viewed as a major setback by a public statement from Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, denouncing casino gambling for its potential "harmful effect on the social fabric of communities."

Roman Catholic clergy leaders in Massachusetts in an April 9 position paper held that "simple games of chance run primarily for amusement are not immoral in themselves," but cautioned that this did not include casinos "where the action is hard, fast, and nonstop." Cardinal Medeiros warned that this type of operation could lead to "increased consumption of alcohol, introduction of prostitution, corruption of public officials, and organized crime."

Members of the Protestant clergy similarly have been vigorously opposed to legalizing casinos in Massachusetts.

With more than 80 percent of state senators and representatives members of the Roman Catholic Church, the position of the Cardinal and auxiliary bishops from Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester may have strong legislative impact.

While it is not clear whether backers of casino gambling intend to revive the proposals now pending in the state legislature, there is little doubt the so-called home-rule petition from Hull will be taken up.

"We must watch carefully what goes on and keep our guard up at all times," asserts Carol Oteri, a Hull resident and leader of Citizens Against Casino Gambling.

She and others bent on keeping gaming tables out of the commonwealth contend that nothing about the proposed operation would be "a good deal" for any community. But they also worry that if MGM Grand was not convinced that approval would come this year or next, it would not have bought the partially wooded tract, despite the enthusiastic support of certain residents of the town.

Casino opposition stems not only from concerns over the potential adverse social impact on Greater Boston's South Shore area but also the threat of increased traffic and declining property values in neighboring towns.

The MGM Grand plan embraces a 13-story, 350-room hotel with 22,000 square feet of gambling space and a banquet room that would seat 1,800.

Local pushers of the project are selling it as an economic bonanza for the 7 1/2 mile-long pen insular town less than 10 miles across Boston Harbor from the Hub.

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