Loophole? Patrick given power to block racinos in bill's fineprint

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 1, 2010…...The gambling bill lawmakers sent Gov. Deval Patrick late Saturday contains language that appears to empower the governor to bypass legislative intent on the chief point of disagreement by granting a panel he would control the option of not sanctioning any slot machine facility licenses at all.

The compromise sent to his desk shortly before the midnight end of formal sessions says the regulatory commission created in the measure “may issue not more than 2 category 2 licenses,” which permit racinos. If the language had said “shall,” rather than “may,” the commission would have been required to issue two licenses.

The late-discovered agreement could allow Patrick to sign the bill and, with knowledge that he will have power over commission appointees, adhere to his stated preference of allowing no racinos. It could also cost the House the battle for two racinos, for which Speaker Robert DeLeo went to the mat Saturday night by challenging Patrick in a dramatic capitol press conference.

“Essentially, the governor can just sign the bill and not worry because he can just do the one license, because he controls the commission,” a legislative source said after midnight Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He can do one if he wants. He can do zero,” the source said.

Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat who joined the majority in approving the bill on a 25-15 vote, said he would not have voted in favor if the bill had said “shall” rather than “may.”

“Prior to the conference committee, I was opposed to racinos and I still am opposed to racinos, but I believe based on the language in the conference committee report, where [the governor] may authorize two, I think that gives him the authority to commit to the statements he’s been making, where he’s opposed to the racinos,” Moore said.

“I am hoping that the governor is going to live up to the commitments that he has been making publicly,” he said.

“I feel that he’s got the authority through that language to limit the racinos, that this bill that we are sending to him is a good jobs bill,” Moore said.

Sen. Gale Candaras said the bill didn’t appear to compel the commission to issue the maximum number of licenses.

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell declined comment in the early-morning hours Sunday.