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Candaras: Casino jobs are needed

Date: 9/6/2011

Sept. 5, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

WILBRAHAM — State Sen. Gale Candaras believes the long-awaited casino bill will come up for a vote in September, although she cautioned there is still opposition to expanded gaming in the Commonwealth and the legislation is still subject to amendment.

Candaras spoke last week to Reminder Publications about the up-coming legislative session.

The senator was once an opponent of casino gambling and still has a certain level of reservation about the subject.

“By no means, casinos are a panacea,” she said.

Candaras added, “But I think the votes are there for approval.”

She fought to include several key points in the legislation in order to support it. She wanted to make sure one of the available casino licenses was reserved for a location in Western Massachusetts and that a definition of “Western Massachusetts” was the four counties of Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire.

She said there are still efforts to change the potential locations and that “everyone with 40 acres and a mule wants to put a casino on his property.”

Candaras was also concerned about the minimum contribution a casino company would have to make to the Commonwealth was consistent across the state. Initially, she explained, the contributions were greater for projected sites in the eastern part of the state and lower here.

The legislation now stipulates a $500 million contribution is the minimum.

Although Candaras did not reveal her personal favorite as a site for a casino — at this point the greatest activity has been in Palmer and Holyoke — she said, “If you want to capture that market [of Massachusetts residents going to Connecticut casinos] you need to put a big casino as close as you can to Interstate 91.”

She said she expects the commission that will determine which company receives a license to be comprised of experts on casino gambling.

With the winding down of several major construction jobs in the region, she said the jobs that would be created with the building of a resort casino would come at a good time.

A casino would bring in 3,000 construction and permanent jobs, she said.

“We need those jobs desperately,” Candaras added.

The unemployment rate in Springfield is at 12 percent, which is higher than the state average, she said and explained the city has an advantage as it has many young people eager to seek work.

She sees Springfield as being a “mecca for precision machining.”

From her vantage point as the chair of the Senate Revenue Committee, she said businesses are seeking stability in the state in order to grow.

She said that changes “every 15 minutes” in the way the state taxes businesses have not helped the economic environment.

Of particular concern to her as well is the way state agencies have over-stepped the bounds created by the Legislature in how they regulate business. She cited that The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program of the Department of Fish and Game as an example of an agency that impeded development.

The result, she said, is “an environment hostile to business.”

She said that when businesses consider coming to the Commonwealth, they consider a number of factors ranging from educated workforce to clean government.

“Taxes are actually sixth or seventh on the list,” she said.

“It’s a long arduous journey to create a [good business] climate here,” she said.

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