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Casino backers just won't give up in New England

Gambling casinos may yet be in the political cards for New England. Even though such proposals appear to have no support among the region's six governors, and despite continuing stiff public opposition, backers for such gaming establishments seem all the more determined.

While prospects for legalizing casinos anywhere in the region within the next several months are less than thin, some foes are increasingly apprehensive about the future.

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In Connecticut, for example, a legislative subcommittee, whose parent panel only last March voted 14 to 0 to reject a measure to permit such gaming operations in the Nutmeg State, is to consider a similar proposal this fall.

Meanwhile, in Massachussets major efforts are afoot to win lawmaker support for early passage of a statute to permit casino statute.

But it is uncertain how much lawmaker support the controversial proposal, which was initiated by residents of the South Shore community of Hull at a May special town meeting, will draw because opposition forces within the Legislature thus far have been able to block its admission for consideration.

As now drafted, the measure would empower only two towns -- Hull, a once-thriving beach-front community eight miles across the harbor from Boston, and Adams, a resort community across the state in the Berkshires -- to license a casino as part of a hotel-convention center complex.

Would-be outside developers in both communities have for some time been eyeing what they consider ideal locations for such competitionless and potentially lucrative ventures.

MGM Grand Hotels Inc., a Las Vegas-based gambling casino-hotel firm, last April purchased a 58-acre water- front tract in Hull where it hopes to build a $ 78 million convention complex including 22,000 square feet of gambling facilities. In late July the firm acquired an additional eight acres for the proposed development.

The move was described by MGM's board chairman as a demonstration of the firm's "continued confidence that the commonwealth's Legislature will enable the Town of Hull to pursue its redevelopment efforts."

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The casino issue, on which local residents differ sharply, first surfaced several years ago. In a May 1978 nonbinding referendum, Hull residents voted 2, 263 to 1,270 to encourage development of a hotel-gambling complex in their community. And last April 28 those attending a special town meeting endorsed pressing forward with the filing of enabling legislation by a 498-to-128 tally.

Boosters of the measure, outwardly at least, are confident that a casino gambling measure can clear the Massachusetts Legislature. Some are considerably less sure it could be free from what they consider a crippling amendment. This provision would give neighboring communities a say in whether some operations would be allowed in Hull or Adams, or any other Bay State town.

Substantial opposition to both casino site proposals has come from concerned residents in adjacent communities who fear such gambling operations would have an adverse impact on "the quality of life" in their town.

Gov. Edward J. King, who had been more than cool to the idea of casino gambling in the commonwealth, has indicated he might go along with such gambling operations provided not only a majority of voters in the communities involved but those in surrounding cities and towns gave their assent.

Perhaps even less enthusiastic concerning casinos in their state have been Govs. William O'Neill of Connecticut and J. Joseph garrahy of Rhode Island. The latter, who earlier this year pushed through legislation that bans new gambling facilities in the nation's smallest state unless there is prior statewide voter approval, recently nixed a proposal for operation of a casino boat within Rhode Island waters.

In Connecticut Governor O'Neill helped put on the books a two-year extension of the state's moritorium against increased legalized gambling operations.

That measure, which now runs through June 1983, would appear to block approval of casinos in the state.

A second new Connecticut statute establishes a program for treatment of compulsive gamblers. The preventive and rehabilitative measure, signed July 8 by Governor O'Neill, is being funded through assessments on the state's three jai alai frontons and its parimutuel dog-racing track, and its off-track betting establishments.

The statute defines a compulsive gambler as one who is constantly preoccupied with gambling and has the urge to gamble to a point where it affects personal, family, or career pursuits.

Connecticut Leisure Corporation, a venture spearheaded by several western Massachusetts residents, wants to construct gambling centers in both the Bridgeport and Hartf ord areas.


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