Regulating casinos in Massachusetts

The gaming commission in Massachusetts is front and center of all of the activity leading up to the actual start of casino gambling in Massachusetts.  It set, as all gaming commissions do, the regulations and conditions for the conducting of gaming in the state; everything that is not specifically defined in the enabling legislation is left up to the commission.  And joyfully Mr. Crosby and his posse dove into their task.

Hiring the staff and writing the regulations is a time consuming and at times a challenging task for most new gaming commissions.  Some borrow a great deal from existing regulations in other states and some think it is necessary to do everything themselves.  Starting from scratch as it were; the National Indian Gaming Commission under the leadership of Tony Hope took several years to get itself ready; most states manage to get things done quicker.  Massachusetts has not been the slowest state in completing the initial tasks.

It is, however, going to take longer than most at completing the entire process – the actual granting of licenses and facilitating the opening of casinos in the state. The chairman of commission seems to think the commission is responsible for every detail and that he and his commission have to invent from scratch all things necessary – and quite possibly many things that are unnecessary – for the introduction of casino gambling into the Bay State.

While everything the commission sees as necessary to resolve, may be an important issue, not all of those issues need to be solved by the commission.  Some might be left to further legislatures, to the casino operators or to the individual cities.  Most recently the commission decided it needed to help the cities considering a casino to understand the challenges and issues they will face.  It is also going to help the horseracing industry deal with casinos and use the best practices in conducting its business of racing horses.  And not to be left out, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission is jumping and helping.  When all of the regulators have finished, there will be very little left to chance or to the individual casinos.  There are other ways this might have been done.

Nevada regulation is not perfect by a long sight, but it has some advantages.  Nevada established very broad guidelines and a set of minimum standards.  Casinos are required to stay within the guidelines and to adhere to the minimum standards, but they are not told exactly how to do it.  That is the exact opposite of what New Jersey did and what Massachusetts is in the process of creating.  Las Vegas is and has always been very successful, 40 million people visited Las Vegas in 2012; it is successful because the casinos are allowed to be different and creative.  There is no rule in Las Vegas for the number of rooms, the number of slot machines or the size of the lobby in the hotel; there are no rules for the number of supervisors or wagering limits on every table.

The Mirage is not like Circus Circus, or the Stratosphere like the Venetian or Luxor like Wynn – they unlike each other in every aspect.  Everything from the design of building to the limits on the tables is unique to each property; they set their sights on different customers and they offer different products and services.  Cookie-cutter casinos designed in every detail by regulation cannot compete and will eventually struggle to survive; just ask the operators in New Jersey who struggled or rather who were strangled by excessive regulation for most of the 30 plus years the industry has existed in Atlantic City.

In fact that was one first steps in Governor Chris Christie’s plan to help the casino – loosen up the regulation. That did not mean let the mob in, or encourage drug dealers to launder money or let the casino cheat the customers; it meant allowing the casinos to make marketing, design and product decisions and to be responsive to the ever-changing conditions of a competitive marketplace.  Massachusetts is not building a framework for long-time success; the commission is dictating and demanding too much.

 “We want to do everything we can so that our casinos are maximally truly ‘destination resort casinos,’ ” Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chair Stephen Crosby said.

Bay State casino developers could be pressured to build museums, amusement parks or finance rail projects as part of a way to sweeten the pot and win one of the state’s three lucrative gaming licenses…Now that the 11 applicants for the licenses are in, the gaming board is turning its attention toward setting the criteria for selecting the winners…Crosby, in a memo to the board, also suggested developers could “provide a home for a Boston Museum or sports museum; provide “green space” and a site for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; develop an “advanced technology amusement park or theme park,” perhaps working with the Museum of Science or MIT.  Crosby also floated the idea that casino developers could “offer to enhance related travel infrastructure, such as South Coast rail or extending the (MBTA) Orange Line,” or “commit a share” of gaming revenue toward “subsidizing a portion of the MBTA operating deficit.” Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, 1-18-12

Massachusetts gaming officials approved a research project to help cities and towns understand the sweeping effects of casinos…Under the project, the center would produce a report on items that should be included in agreements between communities and casino companies, reports on the lessons learned from casinos in communities in other states and a snapshot of the state’s 2011 gambling law. Dan Ring, The Republican, 2-1-13

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission took steps Jan. 30 to ensure the highest standards in both integrity and safety as the state’s horse racing industry prepares to co-exist with planned casinos in the near future.  In its weekly open meeting, the commission voted to approve the initiation of the administrative rule-making process to pursue the adoption of national best practices and operational standards regarding health and medication procedures. In a release, the MGC’s Division of Racing said it is aggressively pursuing new protocols, procedures, and standards to ensure the utmost integrity and efficiency for horse racing in Massachusetts.  Lynne Snierson, Blood-Horse News, 2-1-13

Don’t expect any free or two-for-one drink specials at your local pub when casinos are finally built in Massachusetts. The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission is recommending the state maintain its 29-year-old “happy hour” regulations and prohibitions. Its report follows five public hearings last year to solicit feedback from citizens, liquor license holders, public safety officials and others, the “overwhelming consensus” of which was that changing the existing regulation would substantially compromise public safety and foster a poor business climate, according to the ABCC. Donna Goodison, Boston Herald, 2-1-13


3 Responses to “Regulating casinos in Massachusetts”

  1. 1 rexdstock1 February 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    While much was/is made of regulations in jersey, and every horrible casino floor design they had was apparently due to not being able to work with fire restrictions, I just don’t think that over regulation is what set AC up for its failure.  While there are many variables that has led to AC’s death that you have chronicled, I believe it is the one you wrote on ‘greed’ that truly explains AC.


    • 2 Ken Adams February 4, 2013 at 11:45 am

      so the difference between atlantic city and vegas is greed? interesting

      • 3 RexDStock September 8, 2015 at 12:20 pm

        I had forgot that I had this set up. Yes, I still think the lack of reinvestment (what I will call ‘greed’) was the major catalyst of demise. I know you and some others think it was all due to regulatory constraints.

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