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Wednesday April 11, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- The state’s new Gaming Commission, meeting for the first time, said Tuesday it would reach out to a pair of New Jersey-based firms and take a variety of other steps to lay the foundation for casino gambling in Massachusetts.

The five-member panel voted to enter into negotiations with consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group and Michael & Carroll, a law firm, after hearing presentations from executives of both, who cited their knowledge and experience in casino regulation and law enforcement in New Jersey and elsewhere.

The commission’s inaugural 3 1/2 hour meeting, held at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, focused almost entirely on administrative and organizational matters. The panel, created under the gaming law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick last fall, will eventually be responsible for licensing and overseeing up to three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in the state.

It will likely be three to five years before a casino is operating, though the selection of a slots parlor could come sooner.

The panel’s first action was to adopt a mission statement that pledges to seek "the greatest possible economic development benefits and revenues to the people of the Commonwealth," while reducing as much as possible "the potentially negative or unintended consequences" of the casino law.

The mission statement also said the panel would try to offer casino developers an "appropriate return on investment," which chairman Steven Crosby said was important to attracting the highest-quality bidders to the state.

The panel, which has been fully formed for less than a month, also took the first steps Tuesday to assembling a staff. Janice Reilly, a former top aide to Crosby when he served as state Secretary of Administration and Finance, was named to a $97,000 post as chief of staff to the commission.

The commission said it would look to name an interim executive director while conducting a search for a permanent one.

In addition to Crosby, the commissioners include James McHugh, a retired state appeals court justice; Gayle Cameron, a retired New Jersey State Police official; Bruce Stebbins, former business development administrator for the city of Springfield; and Enrique Zuniga, former head of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust.

Crosby will earn $150,000 a year as chairman while the other commissioners will be paid $112,500 annually.

The panel had originally aimed to hire a single gaming consultant but opted to reach out to both firms because of their varying types of experience.

With ties to former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole and retired FBI agents who were involved in casino-related corruption probes in Atlantic City, N.J., the firm of Michael & Carroll was praised by the panel for its extensive knowledge of law enforcement. The firm said it could help draw clear lines of jurisdiction in Massachusetts and avoid the "ambiguity" that sometimes hampered criminal investigations during the early days of casinos in New Jersey.

Spectrum officials cited broad experience in working with casino regulators in other U.S. states and abroad and said they could help the commission create a strategic plan.

Spectrum is no stranger to the idea of casinos in Massachusetts. In 2008, the firm was awarded a $189,000 contract to review Patrick’s original casino proposal and was later paid $33,724 by House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s political committee to provide casino-related consulting services.

The commission said it would begin negotiations with both firms, with no price tag announced for potential contracts and no guarantee that agreements would be reached.

"It’s a little weird to have a double-team arrangement," Crosby said of the decision to engage both firms. "I don’t see an easy, clean break between the two."

McHugh said there were attractive qualities about both consultants, adding that the panel needed "a focus on planning, a focus on structure and a strong framework from which we can move forward."

Cameron recused herself from the vote, citing previous professional contacts she had with both companies.

The panel also voted Tuesday to retain the Cambridge-based law firm of Anderson & Kreiger for help in developing ethics rules for gaming commissioners and staff, and for other legal advice.


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