- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

BOSTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) — A proposal to ban slot machines and casinos in Massachusetts if gambling operators in neighboring states pay $20 million each has landed with a thud, reports said Wednesday.

While some operators called the plan "extortion" and another said it amounted to "ransom," Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney praised the idea as a "creative possible source of revenue."

Aides to Romney this week floated the proposal they said could raise some $80 million for the governor as he tries to find ways to fill an estimated $3-billion budget gap in fiscal 2004.

Romney said he would "relish the opportunity of finding tens of millions of dollars coming to Massachusetts without our having the additional social costs associated with additional gambling within our borders."

At present, Massachusetts has four racetracks but none are authorized to use slot machines. It also has no casinos.

Ed Callahan of Rockingham Park in New Hampshire and Mark Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, which runs the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, both said the proposal amounted to "extortion."

Brown added his tribe would never put up money that would prevent the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts from being able to operate a gambling casino of its own. The Wampanoags have for years been trying to get the state to allow it to build a gambling facility.

"We are not even interested in discussing it," Brown said.

Dan Bucci, who runs Lincoln Park racetrack in Rhode Island, which has slot machines, said Romney's so-called "blocking" plan amounts to a "ransom payment."

There was no immediate comment from Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, Gov. Don Carcieri has ordered that more than 1,000 state-paid cell phones be turned in immediately. Carcieri said that would save the taxpayers more than $268,000 a year, according to the Providence Journal.

The only exceptions would be in cases where the cell phones are needed for public safety.

Carcieri, in a statement, said the proliferation of state-paid cell phones was "unacceptable." The number of such phones issued to Rhode Island state employees has increased from 494 in 1995 to 1,122 at present.

He said he hopes to cut that number in half.

"We must reduce state spending across the board, and this is just one example of where we might find opportunities for substantial savings," Carcieri said. He said state cars and state-issued credit cards are next on his agenda.

In New Hampshire, there's an air of anticipation for Gov. Craig Benson's first budget address on Thursday. Politicians, lobbyists, state employees and social service advocates are waiting to see whether he will propose cuts or layoffs to address a potential $210-million deficit in the two-year budget.

One thing he won't do, as he promised in his campaign, is to propose raising taxes.

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