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Governor signs law to expand gambling in Massachusetts

By Lauren Kieper

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation on Tuesday to expand legal gambling in the state, a move that is expected to generate millions in new tax revenue and create thousands of jobs.

The gambling bill allows for one slots parlor in the state and one resort style casino in each of three designated regions.

"I have always believed that if done right, expanded gaming can create jobs, generate new revenue and spur economic growth in every region of the Commonwealth," Patrick said. "Because of initiatives like this one, Massachusetts continues to lead the nation out of this recession."

Although gaming has never been central to his job growth strategy, Patrick has said it could help and is a way to create "middle-skill jobs in different corners of the Commonwealth."

Gambling in Massachusetts, until now, had been limited to some forms of horse racing and a lottery that funnels money to municipalities.

Research shows that roughly 10,000 new jobs may be created across the three resort casinos along with annual tax revenue of about $350 million to $400 million, according to Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Resort-style casinos with tables, entertainment, hotels and amenities will help employ the state's work force, especially those whose formal education ended with a high school diploma, Barrow has said.

The state legislature passed the bill earlier this fall, and the two chambers ironed out amendments and other details before casting final votes last week and sending it to the governor's desk.

Critics of the bill have said the casinos and slots parlor could undermine local businesses, drive up crime and addiction rates, and create a showdown with neighboring states for customers.

The expanded Massachusetts gaming poses a threat to existing tables and slots in Connecticut and Rhode Island that bank on visiting Bay State gamblers. Other New England states have considered gambling as a way to boost a weak economy.

In Maine, by contrast, voters rejected ballot questions that would have expanded the number of gambling halls in the state to five from two.

In New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch has said he would veto any legislation that allows casinos or racinos, which are a combination of a race track and casino. He said the state shouldn't be swayed by a short-term infusion of cash, gambling lobbyists or decisions of a neighboring state.

"There are a lot of things that Massachusetts does that we don't do in New Hampshire," Lynch said in a statement earlier this month. "We should not be driven by Massachusetts' policy choices or Massachusetts' schedule."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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