Slowly it seems, the work continues in the casino licensing process here in my home state. As an observer of reports in the general media, I see an increasing voice against gambling in Massachusetts. That is to be expected in any jurisdiction as the timelines progress and the major players pound the pavement for support. Some of it is purely political – an Everett mayoral candidate criticized the current mayor for not making a deal with Wynn Resorts that was good enough, for example – and political posturing is always expected. Some of it comes from individuals who are against gambling for the usual reasons – they find outlets in letters to the editor, forum responses and social media. Again, that’s never surprising. And some of it comes from towns simply not interested in having gaming in their backyard, as in Boxboro, where officials in mid-May shot down a proposed slot parlor there.
Now we have neighboring towns around Milford, where Foxwoods is involved in a casino proposal, banding together to form the MetroWest Anti-Casino Coalition. Hopkinton has led the opposition in this group, with officials there quite unhappy with the information it has received (or lack thereof) about the Milford bid from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Foxwoods will make its case with the Milford Board of Selectmen in a public meeting this evening, and you can bet that will be a lively session.
At another meeting this week, residents of Plainville will hear about the slot parlor bid for Plainridge Racecourse Tuesday evening in a forum held by the Commission. I’ve stated before that I hope Plainridge is the successful bidder for the sole license. It makes sense to me for two reasons. First, it’s an existing racetrack with much of the infrastructure already in place, and people already accept it as a gaming facility. Second, it has supported the community for years, struggling to survive in a region that has seen most racetracks go out of business. Sure, it did so because of the potential pot of gold, but the fact is it gave horsemen a livelihood when they needed it. That should mean something assuming its slot proposal is on par with the others.
On the casino front, the Commission set the schedule for commercial bidding in Southeast Massachusetts, with bids due by September 30. A potential license wouldn’t come until late next year. But there’s the rub – companies interested in bidding, and there appear to be two, aren’t assured that a license will be awarded. They may do all the work for nothing if substantial progress is made on the tribal front. The Mashpee Wampanoags have major hurdles of their own for a planned casino in Taunton, and that’s why the state is hedging its bets by accepting commercial applications. But at this point, any casino in the Southeast region will be at a significant disadvantage, giving a head start to others which can grab market share and player loyalty.
And let’s not forget, Twin River in Rhode Island becomes a full casino in July, adding table games to its 4,600-slot gaming floor. Twin River has defied the odds as the most successful gaming facility in New England the past few years, but revenues are down 3.2 percent through the first four months of this year. Table games should provide a welcome boost, and gives it a competitive edge before anything in Massachusetts gets up and running.