Bay Staters Debate Video Poker

MASSACHUSETTS is once again engaged in a contentious debate over whether to expand state-sponsored gambling.

On the front lines of the battle is Gov. William Weld (R), who filed legislation this month to allow video-gaming machines at racetracks. He estimates the measure could bring to state coffers an annual $40 million to $50 million.

"It's a revenue source that is currently untapped in Massachusetts and is actually being lost to neighboring states that have video poker," says Dominic Slowey, spokesman for the state administration and finance office.

Rhode Island and Connecticut have the game; New Hampshire and Maine are considering it. In Ledyard, Conn., a casino run by Mashantucket Pequot Indians draws huge crowds. In the Bay State, Wampanoag Indians on Martha's Vineyard want to open a casino.

But critics have many concerns about expanding gambling, particularly video gambling. They say Mr. Weld's plan will lead to more crime, addiction, and a victimization of the poor. Bay State municipalities are concerned that the game will draw interest away from the state lottery, a major source of local aid.

State Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, an opponent of Weld's bill, notes that video gambling is called the "crack cocaine" of gambling. He says it will force costly increases in law-enforcement staff. He cites Oregon, which had to hire 22 new officers after legalizing video gambling. "Expanded gambling is not the sure-fire bet that the industry would have us believe.... The expansion of gambling has the potential to cause more problems than it solves," Mr. Harshbarger said in a statement.

Last year, Weld filed a similar bill that did not pass. Others have also been proposed, including one licensing bars and restaurants to offer video poker.

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