In its Wisdom, Commission Could Choose to Hit 'Reset' on Casino Licensing Process

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Later this spring, the state gaming commission is expected to award the licenses to operate casinos in eastern and western Massachusetts. 

The choice for the eastern license is between Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun.   In the west, only MGM Resorts is in the hunt.
Wynn wants to build on an industrial site in Everett and Mohegan Sun on Suffolk Downs, a property that spans East Boston and Revere.  MGM has nailed down a site in downtown Springfield.

Legally, the commission does not have to grant licenses to any casino applicants; it can reject all of them and start the process over again.
The commission could decide, for example, that the revised plan to position the Mohegan Sun casino entirely on the Revere side of Suffolk Downs is unfair to the people of East Boston.  You will recall that East Boston voters rejected the original plan, which had the casino on both sides of the East Boston-Revere divide.  Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun quickly changed the plan to put the casino all in Revere, and Revere voters almost as quickly approved it. 

Likewise, the commission could decide that the Wynn Everett site, located across a busy state highway (Route 99) from a power plant, is not the ideal place for a resort casino, no matter how hard Wynn tries to make it sound fabulous.  They might also judge the potential impacts of an Everett casino on the abutter communities of Charlestown and Somerville as unacceptably high – and the same on the quagmire that is Sullivan Square.
If the commission hits the reset button on the eastern license, maybe someone would then do what someone (surprisingly) did not do two years ago: pitch a casino for downtown Boston.

A casino in the vicinity, say, of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center has a lot to commend it.  It would be close to the airport, South Station, Interstates 93 and 90, a bunch of existing hotels and restaurants, and various cultural, artistic, sports and entertainment attractions.  It would maximize the taking of casino profits from out-of-town visitors, a priority of those who fear casinos may cannibalize the limited recreational dollars of Massachusetts residents, thus hurting Massachusetts enterprises, not to mention the state lottery.

There is some pressure of a financial nature on the commission to make timely awards of the eastern and western casino licenses: gaming licensing fees totaling around $200 million have been built into the state’s current fiscal year budget, which ends June 30.

The folks constructing a slots parlor at the Plainridge harness racing track in Plainville have already paid the $25 million associated with a slots license.  If, in the next eight to 12 weeks, MGM and the winner of the eastern license each paid the $85 million required for a casino license, the total fee receipts for FY 14 would come to $195 million.
In the event the commission declined to grant the eastern and the western licenses, the budget would take a $170 million hit.  While problematical, a hole that size would hardly sink the state, especially when there’s money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover it.

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