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Gambling interests spend big on lobbyists

BOSTON — Gambling interests spent at least $2 million on lobbyist salaries in an attempt to sway the Legislature in the past 18 months, as the debate over casinos reached a fever pitch.

The House defeated Gov. Deval Patrick's casino gambling bill in March. The spending level could have gone even higher had the debate lasted through the summer.

Secretary of State William Galvin said the final tally could break a record for spending by gambling interests in a legislative session once all reports are filed with his office. The reports for the latest six-month period that ended July 1 were due Tuesday, but several had not been submitted by the 5 p.m. deadline.

"The economy might not be well, but lobbyists are doing swell," Mr. Galvin said in a telephone interview.

In the mid-1990s, gambling companies spent about $1 million a year on lobbyists while the Legislature was weighing a casino proposal from former Gov. William F. Weld.

Suffolk Downs, which wants a casino, was the top spender in the past 18 months, dropping nearly $500,000 on seven lobbying firms.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe reported spending $221,000 on lobbyist salaries in the past 18 months. The tribe is seeking state support for an application to take land in federal trust for an Indian casino in Middleboro.

In the latest report to the secretary of state, covering the six-month period ending July 1, the Mashpee tribe reported spending $56,000 on the firm of Quinn and Morris, and $30,000 for "indirect" lobbying by Scott Ferson of the Liberty Square Group.

Robert Quinn is a former state attorney general, and Mr. Ferson, the tribe's spokesman, is a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), which is also seeking a casino, spent $120,000 in the past 18 months on the lobbying firm of Donoghue, Barrett & Singal.

Northeast Gaming Group, of East Longmeadow, which is pitching casinos in New Bedford and Western Massachusetts, reported spending $45,000 on the Suffolk Group.

Other notable filings for the past 18 months included Donald Trump's casino company, which spent $162,000, Harrah's, $87,500, and the Mohegan Tribe, $21,000. The Mohegan Tribe, which operates Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, is a partner in a commercial casino venture in Western Massachusetts.

Tuesday's reports deal mainly with lobbyist salaries.

A report released in May by Common Cause Massachusetts found that gambling interests also gave nearly $1.5 million in campaign contributions to state politicians between 2002 and 2007 in a wide push for slot parlors and casinos.

Good-government groups say heavy spending by gambling interests keeps the issue alive on Beacon Hill year after year despite legislative defeats.

Secretary Galvin attributed the high figures in lobbyist salaries in part to a crackdown by his office on unregistered lobbyists. Mr. Galvin sent letters to nearly 30 gambling entities that met with the Patrick administration, warning them that they might have to register as lobbyists under the law. The administration was holding the meetings as it compiled briefing materials on casinos for the governor last year.

"We had a truth-telling session," Mr. Galvin said. "We had a number of entities come in and report new clients that they should have reported back in January."

Gov. Patrick is widely expected to renew his casino plan when the Legislature begins a new session next year.

Mr. Galvin said lobbyist salaries jump "whenever they think there is some kind of gambling fever. "¦ It's going into remission. It's not going away."


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