House bids for slots in veterans halls

Representatives will vote on a veterans bill that features gambling expansion


REPRESENTATIVES WILL vote Thursday on a wide-reaching veterans bill that also features a gambling expansion proposal that is unpopular in the Senate and could create “complexity” for regulators.

After a slow start to the holiday-shortened week, the House on Wednesday rolled out omnibus veterans legislation (H 4978) that significantly expands the scope of a Senate-approved bill dealing with professional licensing and education for military families.

One significant addition in the House Ways and Means Committee redraft would allow certain veterans’ organizations such as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts to install slot machines for their members.

To qualify for a limited slot machine license, a veterans’ organization would need to be actively functioning for at least five years, win the support of the local licensing authority, and fulfill requirements the Massachusetts Gaming Commission would craft.

Use of the machines would be limited only to veterans who belong to the organization, and anyone else in the general public would be barred from playing. All profits would remain within the organization and would need to be spent on “charitable, fraternal or civic purposes, including, but not limited to, veterans’ benefits.”

The proposal represents an expansion of gambling in Massachusetts, where only three facilities — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino — have licenses to operate slots machines.

Gaming regulators already have an eye on the idea after the House approved an amendment adding similar language to its sports betting bill (H 3977) last summer.

MGC Chief Administrative Officer and Special Projects Manager Crystal Howard said in February that licensing slots machines in veterans’ organizations would add a “lot of complexity” to the commission’s work.

Commissioner Brad Hill, a former representative who voted in favor of the sports betting bill, said at that meeting the amendment language was “not as good as it could have been.”

“There have been a lot of questions from a lot of legislators on how this would be implemented,” Hill said. “So although they are talking about it, I’m not sure that it’s ready for primetime.”

With an unrecorded voice vote, the Senate rejected a Minority Leader Bruce Tarr amendment including similar authorization for slot machines at veterans’ organizations when it approved its version of a bill legalizing sports wagering (S 2862).

The House’s move to revive the idea in a second piece of legislation could indicate that the chamber’s top Democrats are less than optimistic about their chances of getting senators on board in the sports betting conference committee negotiations.

Other parts of the House’s veterans bill would require funeral directors to inform clients about benefits available for veterans, create a “Medal of Fidelity” award honoring servicemembers who died as a result of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder or service-connected diseases, and stand up a commission to study a possible memorial honoring Deborah Samson, a Massachusetts woman who disguised herself as a man during the Revolutionary War.

Several sections seek to educate veterans about the impacts of exposure to open burn pits, where personnel at military bases would set ablaze large volumes of waste, often including plastic, rubber and other materials that produce toxic fumes with potential negative health effects.

The technique was common during deployments to the Middle East and southwest Asia after 9/11. Federal officials have estimated roughly 3.5 million military personnel could have been exposed to burn pits during their service, according to media reports.

Under the House bill, the Department of Public Health, commissioner of veterans’ services and the Massachusetts National Guard adjutant general would be ordered to craft written educational materials about burn pit exposure. They would also need to reach out to Bay Staters who might have been exposed and connect them with a federal registry.

Like the bill the Senate approved unanimously in October (S 2559), the legislation headed to the House floor would overhaul professional licensing procedures in an attempt to help military families relocated to Massachusetts integrate more easily.

Meet the Author

Chris Lisinski

Reporter, State House News Service
It would also extend in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities to military members stationed in Massachusetts and their families and would create a “Purple Star” system for K-12 public schools that support military families.

Representatives were given until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file amendments to the bill.