It’s going to be a long year. The fledgling Massachusetts Gaming Commission held its first official meeting on Tuesday, the first of many to come under the Open Meetings law in the state. Any business the Commission members conduct must be held in a public forum. The goal is complete transparency, a welcome ideal, but it will admittedly slow down the overall process.

While the Commission took care of a number of administrative issues, the meat of the meeting involved presentations by the two finalists for the gaming consultant contract – an absolutely critical decision given the board’s lack of gaming industry experience. I am quite familiar with Spectrum Gaming, but not so much with Michael & Carroll, a gaming law firm. It was clear that the latter is strong in law enforcement and compliance, while Spectrum has the strategy and operational expertise.

As the presentations ended, my perspective was that the two firms were quite different and each offered something the Commission needed. And in what I thought was a very good decision, the Commission voted to negotiate with both in an effort to have each develop a specific scope of services that would capitalize on the best they had to offer. They may still end up hiring only one, but I suspect it will be both. The questions asked by the Commissioners reflected their understanding of what was being presented to them, and they weren’t fooled by fluff. I’d bet that the two firms can expect some serious negotiations.

About 75 people were in attendance, although the number dropped off considerably after the two presentations were made. The video for all meetings will be available on the Commission’s website.

Meanwhile, the maneuvering for casino sites goes on. In recent developments, MGM Resorts has abandoned plans for a Brimfield location for the Western Massachusetts license, citing various infrastructure issues. The company is now looking elsewhere. On the tribal front, the city of Taunton has scheduled a referendum for June 9 to determine whether residents will accept a casino proposed by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. And the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has entered the picture for the tribal license, for which a compact has to be negotiated by July 31. That tribe has chosen potential sites in Fall River, Freetown and Lakeville. A referendum is set in Freetown on May 29 and in Lakeville on June 2.