Massachusetts Kicks Online Gambling Down the Road
This week the Massachusetts Gaming Commission addressed two issues that may very well shape the future of the state’s gambling industry.
First, the Chairman of the Gaming Commission directly addressed the possibility of online betting coming to Massachusetts. The panel also looked at the viability of a relatively new plan put forward by a partnership between East Boston’s Suffolk Downs racetrack and Mohegan Sun.
Let’s start off with a look at the future for iGaming in the Bay State.
Land-based casinos come first, says head regulator
This week the Milford Daily News ran a story that got quite a bit of traction in the online gambling media, in which the head of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Stephen Crosby, remarked that the state remains focused on its efforts to launch a land-based casino industry, a project that it intends to focus on before talk of regulating online betting is going to be on the table.
“We also have taken the position that Massachusetts shouldn’t do anything in online gambling until our bricks-and-mortar people are selected because they ought to be at the table when we do this. You can’t expect somebody to give us $85 million and then spend a billion to build a facility and change the rules of the game on them a year or two down the road,” Crosby said.
Massachusetts is in the end stages of selecting operators for the land-based casinos it approved two years ago in 2011. Despite efforts earlier this year on the part of both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate to insert provisions for real money online wagering into the state budget – both of which failed – Crosby’s comments this week make it clear that bettors in Massachusetts shouldn’t dream of sitting down at a virtual poker table or casino game anytime soon.
Casino operating licenses are expected to be issued in the spring of 2014, with the license for the state’s sole slots-only parlor anticipated even sooner, in January, though Crosby stated that it will still be years – possibly as far away as 2016 – until the new casinos in Massachusetts are open for business.
Mohegan Sun / Suffolk Downs project likely to move forward
Meanwhile, there was a bit of good news this week for one of the casinos proposed for the Boston area, where only one license will be handed down. A newly-minted partnership between Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs, both of which suffered losses at the polls last month when voters shot down Suffolk Downs’ East Boston plan while voters in Palmer said no to Mohegan Sun, seems to have a strong chance of moving forward.
Even though East Boston voters nixed the casino proposal, those in nearby Revere, Massachusetts gave it the a-okay, prompting Suffolk Downs to work to reconfigure its development plan to fit entirely within Revere’s limits. That is the one sticking point that still needs to be addressed before the plan can move toward further consideration from state gaming regulators.
At issue is the fact that while Revere voters approved the Suffolk Downs plan, they did so after Caesars famously parted from the project but before Suffolk Downs was able to secure a casino partnership with Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun, meaning that voters who cast ballots in the public referendum weren’t voting on the final plan.
The Massachusetts commissioners are divided on whether another public referendum ought to be held on the matter, with a hearing set for next week to determine if such a vote will be required. Industry observers speculate that support seems to be in favor of allowing the proposal to move forward to allow for healthy competition in the state’s casino race.
Still, there are some who think that voters must be completely clear on the plan before it comes to fruition.
“It seems to me this proposal is so different in so many dimensions . . . it stretches the concept of a knowing community vote past recognition,” James McHugh, a gaming commissioner and one-time judge, who is in favor of holding another public referendum in Revere, was quoted in the Boston Globe.
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