Massachusetts Voters Will Decide Future of State’s Casino Gambling in November
In November, Massachusetts voters will go to the polls to decide whether their state will have casino gambling. Back in 2011, the same body of voters approved a casino licensing process for three land casinos in the state, including one in the Boston metropolitan area. The November vote is meant to give the electorate a chance to put an end to that licensing process, having seen it as work these past three years.
Massachusetts was late to the land-based casino industry. Nearly 40 other states had built land casinos before Massachusetts considered the idea seriously. In the years before, Massachusetts gamblers often traveled into Connecticut to Foxwoods Casino or Mohegan Sun.
Caesars, Wynn Resorts, and Mohegan Sun
Several gaming companies emerged to seek a license. Caesars Entertainment sought a gaming license for the Boston casino, but it lost out in the process and decided to sue the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s chairman, citing conflict of interest concerns.
The gaming interests which beat Caesars in the licensing process were Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun, which are now rivals for the Boston-area casino project. Steve Wynn’s bid ran into trouble when it was learned that the land deal for the site of the casino involved a real estate company with an ex-convict among the primary owners. Mohegan Sun faced no such potential scandals, but it did see a casino development plan that would have straddled the divide between Boston and Revere get voted down by the people of Boston. All in all, the licensing process has not gone smoothly.
Ad Campaigns Being Planned
The November vote therefore involves billion-dollar gaming companies who want to build massive casino complexes. Proponents of the vote include the casino interests who stand to gain from an approval, as well as the labor unions who would gain jobs and members from such gaming complexes. Political opponents of the casino initiative include a mish-mash of religious groups, grass-roots activists, astro-turf public policy groups, and small business owners. In certain instances, the vote could cut across party lines.
Both sides have had spirited debates in town-hall meetings across the state. According to the NY Times, the two sides have fought each other “to a near draw”. Both sides plan multi-million dollar TV ad campaigns, along with door-to-door election canvassing with local political organizations.
Vote Could Define State of Casino Industry
Richard McGowan, a business professor at Boston College, says the vote could define the state of the industry in the northeast. McGowan, who specializes in casino economics, told the NY Times, “If Massachusetts votes to repeal casinos, this could represent a turning of the tide. But even if the casinos win, the fact that they’re even having this vote says to the industry that maybe they should think twice about how many casinos they’re opening.”
The fact of the vote is interesting in its own right. One would think an approval vote would be the electorate’s final say, but this is chance to entirely reconsider before moving forward with a groundbreaking. Still, millions of dollars have been spent by gaming companies drawing up plans.
Reassessing the People’s Needs
At the time of the 2011 approval vote, the United States was three years into the Great Recession and most U.S. states were searching for new streams of revenues. Though fewer people had the money to visit casinos, approving a gambling complex near Boston not only would allow the state to regulate and tax the casino, but the operation would employ somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 locals, depending on the scope of the gaming house.
Now, Massachusetts voters have to decide whether the additional jobs and tax revenues are worth it. The economy is better now than it was in 2011. Also, the casino industry of the northeast is saturated, after two dozen there casinos have been built over the past decade. New York state plans on approving up to 4 new casino licenses this fall, while New Jersey is talking about building a casino in North Jersey. The region is filling up with casinos, and not all of them might be viable.