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For Mass. casino czar, promises and pitfalls loom

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For Mass. casino czar, promises and pitfalls loom

As he readies himself for his new job as the state's casino czar, Stephen Crosby can look forward to wading into a fiscal and ethical thicket laden with political minefields.

Once a critic of expanded gambling in Massachusetts, Crosby, appointed chairman of the new five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission by Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday, instantly becomes the public face of one of Beacon Hill's most contentious policy decision in decades.

Not only must he help launch an entirely new industry in Massachusetts, one that lawmakers hope will generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, Crosby, 66, must also walk an ethical tightrope designed to ensure every decision he takes is above reproach.

Part of his job will be juggling the sometimes competing demands of reviewing applications for proposed casinos while also acting as top watchdog over the gambling industry and listening to the concerns of local residents in the communities where the casinos may be plunked down.

All the while Crosby and the other, as-yet-unnamed members of the commission will find themselves under a public microscope for any hint that the decisions they make are being fueled by anything less than interest in the greater public good.

Patrick, who named Crosby to head the commission, said he's confident Crosby is the best man for the job.

"For me, the chair needs to be someone who has the proven capacity and the experience to launch a new organization, someone who knows and loves Massachusetts ... and someone who's integrity is beyond reproach," Patrick said in announcing his decision.

"We have found that person in Steve," he added.

Patrick pointed to not only Crosby's current job as dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and his past jobs as Secretary of Administration and Finance under Gov. Paul Cellucci and as chief of staff to acting Gov. Jane Swift, both Republicans, but also to Crosby's willingness to wade into politically difficult tasks.

In 2006, as Patrick was preparing to take the governor's office for the first time, he named Crosby to co-chair a transition committee on budget and finance.

In 2009, when Patrick came under fire for appointing a political ally, then-state Sen. Marian Walsh, to a $175,000 post as assistant executive director that had been vacant for a dozen years, he called on Crosby to launch a review of salaries and benefits for senior managers at the state's quasi-public agencies. Walsh later opted against the job.

The following year Crosby was appointed by the state Supreme Judicial Court to serve as a member of a task force to review hiring practices in the court system and its Probation Department in the wake of revelations about alleged patronage.

Running the gaming commission could be Crosby's toughest task yet.

"My job and eventually the job of the commission is first and foremost to maximize the public good and to minimize the unintended consequences," Crosby said, standing alongside Patrick.

One reason why the job is so daunting is that lawmakers, trying to insulate the commission from political pressures, gave the panel sweeping powers to approve and reject casino licenses and then oversee the gambling facilities once they are up and running.

That oversight includes the commission's creation of its own investigation and enforcement bureau with the power to issue subpoenas and refer cases for civil or criminal prosecution while working with the state police, attorney general's office and state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

At the same time the law requires the commission to file its own code of ethics with the state Ethics Commission intended to go above and beyond the state's existing conflict of interest and financial reporting rules.

Crosby has already said that neither he nor his wife hold any stock in the casino industry, one of the ethical hurdles outlined by the law.

The appointment of Crosby was praised as "inspired" by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, one of the state's most outspoken gambling foes and head of the anti-casino group Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts, said in a statement.

But Harshbarger also said that Crosby and the other members of the commission will have to live up to a high standard by creating "a strict code of ethics" and establishing "a process for decisions which imposes a new level of transparency and civic engagement."

Harshbarger also acted as chairman of the same probation task force that Crosby also served on.

Crosby is the first member to be named to the commission.

Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman are each required to name a member with the remaining two members appointed by a majority vote of Patrick, Coakley and Grossman.

Grossman has already named a five-member panel to help vet possible candidates for his selection. Grossman said he will make the names of the finalists public before making his choice.

Crosby said despite all the potential hassles of the job, he simply couldn't turn down the offer, even though the $150,000-a-year post means a pay cut.

"It is a challenge and an opportunity that I cannot resist," he said.

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