Thursday February 21, 2013

BOSTON -- The gambling industry spent less on lobbying Beacon Hill lawmakers last year than in 2011, when Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law allowing the state to license up to three resort casinos and a single slots parlor in Massachusetts.

A review of state lobbying records by The Associated Press found the industry spent nearly $2.3 million trying to sway state elected officials in 2012, down from $3.1 million spent by the industry on lobbying in 2011.

Despite the decline, companies hoping to land one of the state’s coveted casino licenses spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to win over state lawmakers.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe topped the list in 2012, spending more than half a million dollars on lobbying, nearly double the $277,000 the tribe spent in 2011. The tribe is hoping to build a gambling resort in Taunton.

One reason the Mashpee Wampanoag’s lobbying efforts spiked last year is because -- unlike other casino companies -- the tribe is negotiating a compact with the state that must be approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor.

Second on the list is Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which spent nearly $244,000 on lobbying efforts in 2012. That’s less than half the nearly $657,000 the company spent lobbying during 2011. The company runs the Suffolk Downs racetrack and is hoping to turn the East Boston facility into a destination casino.

Officials from Suffolk declined to comment. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe did not immediately return a request for comment.

Since 2007, the gambling industry has doled out $13.7 million on lobbying efforts, peaking in 2011, the year that House and Senate lawmakers approved the casino bill.

The bulk of the money is spent on the salaries of paid lobbyists, many of whom also donate to the campaigns of state lawmakers.

Since Patrick signed the casino bill, much of the attention has shifted to local cities and towns, which must approve a bid for a license, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has the final say over awarding the three casino licenses and one slots parlor license.

Among the other top spenders on lobbying were firms hoping to open gambling venues.

The gaming commission is hoping to award the single slots parlor license in the fall and the first of the casino licenses early next year.