Massachusetts restricts 'Las Vegas nights'

Massachusetts lawmakers are taking no chances on their state's becoming an American Monte Carlo.

But while they have resisted the push for gambling casinos a la Atlantic City or Las Vegas, roulette tables, craps, black jack games, and dice rolling have increasingly invaded the state through a wide-open back door.

In 1981, for example, at least 2,150 of these gaming activities were conducted here, more than quadruple the number two years earlier - and all supposedly for charitable purposes.

This situation is of major concern to state Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti, and a small army of legislators has sparked a drive to restrict the number of so-called Las Vegas nights sponsored by charities.

Starting Aug. 1, organizations sponsoring such gambling activities, which in the past have been able to have as many of these high-stakes casino-type activities as they want, will be limited to but two a year.

That newly drafted regulation by the attorney general may, however, be short-lived. Lawmakers are considering a proposed statute that would authorize up to six Las Vegas or Monte Carlo nights a year for nonprofit charitable groups.

That measure also would impose a number of safeguards against what Mr. Bellotti and others view as ''widespread abuses'' of the state's charitable gambling laws. For instance, all such operations would be brought under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission, the agency whose domain already embraces the licensing of beano games run by religious, fraternal, veterans, and philanthropic groups.

No longer would those who supply the gaming equipment be able to collect a percentage of the money bet. Instead, they'd receive a fixed dollar amount previously agreed upon.

Also, all the organizations sponsoring Las Vegas nights would have have to file reports on their activities with the lottery commission. Currently only the one-third of such groups who also sponsor beano come under the commission's jurisdiction.

Because of this lack of supervision and the large sums of Continued on next page money bet at the gaming tables, organized crime has in some instances become involved in certain aspects of the operations, according to Worcester County District Attorney John J. Conte.

Limiting not only the number of Las Vegas nights a charitiable organization can sponsor but also the number at any one location within a year, along with closer surveillance of those actually running the casino-type activities, including the dealers, would in his opinion help keep criminal elements away.

Mr. Conte and other concerned Bay State officials attribute the expansion in casino-type operations in recent years to a 1979 statute increasing from $5 to $ 25 the top prize per roll of dice or and every turn of the cards.

In decrying the proliferation of this type of legalized gambling, Attorney General Bellotti notes that while ''Massachusetts has had a long tradition of public support for charitable endeavors, these fund raising activities appear to have undergone threatening changes over the past five years.''

Besides the new regulations, which also include vesting increased authority in the lottery commission to oversee Las Vegas nights, the attorney general is pushing legislation to restrict sponsorship of such gambling activities and require that all proceeds be used for ''charitable, educational, and religious purposes.''

No longer could so-called social clubs, those existing solely for the benefit of their members, qualify to run supposedly charitable gaming.

Some lawmakers would like to cut back the stakes. Neighboring Connecticut, they note, forbids cash prizes.

Supporters of the pending legislation contend that the statute legalizing bazaars and raffles by charitable groups was never intended to encourage large-scale gambling operations.

Besides Massachusetts, Las Vegas nights have increasingly become a part of the legalized gambling scene in more than a few other states including Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

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