World and Nation

Massachusetts clears big hurdle
in approval of casinos

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill Thursday that would legalize casino gambling, paving the way for three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in the state.

Past attempts to legalize casino gambling failed, but the idea gained popularity recently as the recession tempered the state’s economic growth. The Senate bill passed 24-14 after days of debate. Last month, the state’s House passed a bill allowing the same number of gambling establishments. Some differences remain, but they are expected to be resolved in a conference committee of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and Gov. Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign the final legislation.

Last year, a gambling measure failed when Patrick and the House speaker, Robert A. DeLeo, disagreed on the number of slots parlors. The new legislation emerged after months of closed-door negotiations involving Patrick, DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray.

Scott Harshbarger, a former state attorney general who is now president of the anti-casino group Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts, criticized what he said was too much secrecy.

“This was just a classic, Massachusetts, behind-closed-doors power play by the special interests and lobbyists and casino owners,” Harshbarger said. “Only the public interest lost.”

Supporters promote casino gambling as a major job creator, saying it will drive industry growth in construction, service and tourism.