Finally! A Casino in Massachusetts

In June, Massachusetts became the 40th state to offer casino gambling. It took four years of debates, elections, meetings and acrimony after Governor Deval Patrick signed the casino legislation to get here. But, regardless of how long it took, Massachusetts now has its first casino. Well, it is not exactly a casino, it is a slot parlor. Penn National received the single slot parlor license allowed by state law on February 28, 2014 and it did not waste any time building the $225 million Plainridge Park Casino at the racetrack in Plainville. Penn hurried because it wanted to be operating for as long as possible before any other casino opened in the state. The prognosis is good for it to be a financial success, at least in the short-term.

Plainridge Park got off to a great start; people waited in line to play one of the 1,250 slot machines. It was reminiscent of the opening of Resorts in Atlantic City 37 years ago when many tens of thousands of people waited for hours outside Resorts for the opportunity to gamble. The lines in Massachusetts were much, much shorter, minutes rather than hours. But a new casino is not quite the big deal now that it was in 1978.

Some danced down the carpet, high-fiving their way toward the beckoning slot machines. Others walked straight ahead…The era of legal, Las Vegas-style gaming dawned in the state Wednesday, and within an hour after opening, throngs swarmed into every corner of the gleaming new slot parlor and set all 1,250 machines ringing at once. Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe, 6-25-15

About 10,000 people streamed through the Plainville slots parlor between its opening at noon Wednesday and early Thursday morning, according to the venue’s operators. Gintautas Dumcius, Massachusetts Republican, 6-25-15

But like Resorts, Penn has a head start on the competition. The legislation allows three full casinos in the state. Two licenses have been awarded thus far, one for Springfield and one for the Boston area. The third license has yet to be granted. In Springfield, MGM is planning an $800 million resort. The Springfield resort was scheduled to open in 2017, but MGM has asked for a delay until 2018; that gives Penn three years without another casino in the state.

MGM is asking to delay the expected opening of its planned resort casino in Springfield by about a year…push back the opening to September 2018 in consideration of a major Interstate 91 project taking place nearby. In return, it would make additional $4 million in payments to the city by the fall of 2017. Associated Press, 6-26-18

Well, maybe MGM will get the delay. The state gaming commission is not certain and thinks it should investigate the reasons for the delay. The commission predicts the state will lose $125 million in tax revenue during that delay. “Someone had better investigate soon” is almost the state song at this point. The chairman of the commission is himself the subject of an investigation.

Massachusetts gambling regulators plan their own “due diligence” on MGM Springfield’s request to delay the casino opening until September 2018. If approved, the one-year delay could lead to the state losing out on $125 million in anticipated gambling revenues. Gintautas Dumcius, Massachusetts Republican, 6-25-15

Members of the state’s gambling commission came to the defense of chairman Stephen Crosby, who has confirmed a state ethics probe over whether he participated in the awarding of a Boston-area casino license after publicly removing himself from the process. Bob Salsburg, Associated Press, 6-12-15

The subject of the investigation of the commission chairman is related to the other license, the one for the Boston area. That license was awarded to Steve Wynn. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved Wynn’s application over proposals from Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs. As anyone knows who has heard one of Steve Wynn’s presentations, Steve is charming and convincing. He both charmed and convinced the gaming commissioners. The losers were not pleased and neither was the mayor of Boston. The mayor is suing and the ethics commission is investigating – it is the Massachusetts way it seems. Wynn’s plans call for a $1.6 billion five-star resort and casino four miles from Boston in Everett. Wynn does not even have a shovel in the ground yet, so it is unlikely a Wynn resort could open in less than three years. Steve does not rush the construction of one of his properties. He concentrates on quality, not speed.

The stage is set for one more round of investigations and lawsuits as Mass Gaming & Entertainment proposal for a $650 million casino in Brockton, and KG Urban Enterprises proposal for a $500 million resort casino in New Bedford are competing for the last license. The competition is between the two developers, but also between the two cities and each city wants a casino. The winning bidder may be chosen this fall. The licensee could not hope to open before the fall of 2017. And that would be the perfect scenario with no legal delays or investigations and a flawless financing and construction process. The history of casino gambling in Massachusetts makes that seem highly unlikely.

New Bedford set to duel with Brockton for southeastern license: After years of delays, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will have two commercial casino proposals to weigh in southeastern Massachusetts, following a 73.3 – 26.6 win by casino proponents in New Bedford. New Bedford voters’ decision pits plans for a waterfront casino in the Whaling City against a proposal in Brockton for a resort casino on the old Brockton Fairgrounds. Andy Metzger, Massachusetts Republican, 6-12-15

All of that means that Penn will probably have three years before it faces any in-state competition. That should be enough to pay off the costs of construction and put some money in the bank. In fact, Penn may be the only one to make any money in Massachusetts. A great many things could happen between now and the end of 2018. In the meantime, Penn’s slot parlor is open for business.


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