Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission officially began accepting deposits for casino applicants, and two companies have forked over the non-refundable $400,000 fee. Plainridge Racecourse wasted no time, paying the fee on Thursday, while Suffolk Downs submitted its letter of intent on Friday. By putting up the cash, the companies are given easy access to any governmental agencies that could help them in their application process.


Others expected to apply are not in any rush to signal intent and may wait until the full applications are out in October. Those include Mohegan Sun, MGM Resorts International, Ameristar, Penn National and Hard Rock for the casino licenses, and Raynham Park for the slot parlor license.

There has been little buzz about a rivalry for the Boston-area casino license since Steve Wynn dropped out of a proposed project in Foxboro, so right now Suffolk Downs, partnered with Caesars Entertainment, remains the primary player. Of the state’s two other racetracks, Plainridge would seem to have the best location for a slot parlor license. Raynham is located next to Taunton, which is in line for a tribal casino should the Feds approve the state-tribal compact agreement signed last month. In my mind, it makes little sense to have two gaming facilities right next to each other.

There will be intense competition for the single casino license in the Central and Western part of the state, with as many as four proposals targeting the Springfield area, plus Mohegan Sun’s Palmer project. Within the next week or two, MGM Resorts is expected to announce its new plans for Springfield, having previously looked at a location in Brimfield.

While Massachusetts itself is new territory for casinos, and as such the companies expect strong revenues, regional gaming trends offer no guarantee of overnight success in this new economy. After all, two of the largest casinos in the world are in Eastern Connecticut, and they have struggled mightily in recent years. Slot revenues at Foxwoods have declined every year since fiscal 2005, and are down 25 percent from that peak year. At Mohegan Sun, slot revenues have dropped every year since its peak in fiscal 2007, and are also down 25 percent since that time.

Contrast those results with the performance of Rhode Island’s Twin River, less than 60 miles from each of the two giants. Revenues from VLTs at that facility have grown every year except one in the past decade. Using Foxwoods’ peak year of fiscal 2005 as a base, Twin River revenues are up 49 percent since that time.

Clearly, the Massachusetts casino hopefuls would prefer to use Twin River’s results as an indicator of market potential rather than those of the two tribal casinos.

I also looked at gaming revenue in all New England states for the first six months of this year to see if there has been any changes from the long-term trends. Unfortunately, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun continue their declines, while Twin River continues to grow. Small Newport Grand has also increased its revenue this year. Both Rhode Island properties hope to add table games soon as a way to get the jump on Massachusetts; a referendum is scheduled this fall.

The only other casinos in the region are in Maine, and Hollywood Casino at Bangor was boosted by the addition of table games in March. Its total revenues through June were up 15.5 percent over last year; slot-only revenue was up almost 7 percent. However, it faced competition for the first time from a new casino in Oxford, which opened in early June and draws from the southern Maine market. In July, Hollywood’s total gaming revenues fell by 6.5 percent.

There’s no doubt, the competition for gaming dollars will be brutal, and the existing casinos in New England have every right to be worried. It would be a miracle if Twin River can keep on its upward path once gaming comes to Massachusetts, as remarkable as its performance has been so far.

The following table summarizes revenue results at each facility from January through June of this year. Oxford's June results are shown for comparative purposes.

 

 

 Jan-June 2011Jan-June 2012% Change
    
Foxwoods (slots)$318,859,096$298,954,116-6.2%
Mohegan Sun (slots)354,886,445333,279,878-6.1%
Twin River233,363,827246,521,473+5.6%
Newport Grand24,618,65325,919,330+5.3%
    
Hollywood Bangor (slots)28,289,42930,216,926+6.8%
Hollywood Bangor (tables)n/a2,448,500n/a
Hollywood Bangor (total)28,289,42932,665,426+15.5%
    
Oxford (total - one month)n/a4,479,174n/a