Bay State’s First Casino Set to Open in June

The first of four casinos in Massachusetts, the $250 million Plainridge Park Casino (l.), is set to open in June, the state Gaming Commission learned last week. And the state gaming commission is asking the legislature to amend the gaming bill to allow for larger winnings before reporting them to the feds.

The 0 million Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, Massachusetts is on track to open in June, casino officials told the state Gaming Commission last week.

The facility is 95 percent complete, and the work has now switched indoors, where the interior of the existing harness racing facility is being renovated. The existing operation also offers simulcasting, which is being relocated during the renovations. Racing is scheduled to resume on April 1.

MGM Springfield

Developers of the MGM Springfield casino on 14.5 acres in the downtown area have adopted a tentative timeline that shows the facility navigating through the many permits required plus installation of utilities and demolition of existing buildings and opening in 30 months.

The city could impose a penalty if MGM takes longer than 33 months to open.

MGM had hoped to break ground last month. But it is hoping to start soon, particularly if the current mild winter continues. Of course, that estimate was before the huge snowstorm that hit the Eastern coast last week.

The timeline projects 12 months for design, 90 days for demolition, 10 months to build the parking structure, 30 months to build the casino and hotel tower, with five months set aside for furnishing and preparing for the opening.

In a related development, Hard Rock International has sold the land that it purchased several years ago in the hopes that it would be granted the license to operate the Western state casino on the grounds of the “Big E” state fair.

Hard Rock sold the land to Westside 55 Circuit LLC late last year for $385,000, according to records.

Voters of West Springfield rejected the proposal early in 2014. Springfield’s voters approved of the $800 million MGM casino in July of 2013 by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent.

Revise Regulations

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is practically begging the legislature to revise the 2011 gaming expansion law to avoid losing millions in revenue.

The law currently calls for games to be halted whenever a play wins $600 and for the player to fill out tax forms and pay 5 percent taxes on the revenue. The great majority of other starts don’t commence this process until $1,200.

Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby has stated that revising that threshold upward is “absolutely critical,” to the success of the state’s gaming enterprise. He said it’s important to revise the law before the state’s first casino, and only slots parlor, being built by Penn National Gaming, opens on June 30 in Plainville.

Crosby told the State House News Service, “That’s one of the reasons I brought it up now, because the time is short, because they have to program their machines.” He added, “The machines have to be programmed to do something, whatever it is that the policy is going to require.”

Other commissioners fear that players will seek casinos with less stringent rules in nearby states such as Rhode Island and Connecticut. If just 5 percent of players feel that way, it could cost the Bay State $6 million annually, said Crosby.

Lawmakers say they are open to making the change, but want the commission to do the heavy lifting in coming up with convincing statistics and arguments to justify the change. Crosby said last week that he would provide all the documentation the lawmakers need.

Making Lottery Competitive

Meanwhile, newly sworn State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has vowed to make the state lottery competitive and has asked the legislature for $2 million extra to help advertise the lottery. This would raise the advertising budget to $10 million.

She told lawmakers last week, “As a businesswoman, I firmly believe that the last thing you do when you’re trying to increase revenue is cut advertising. And especially not when new competition is moving into your backyard.”

Tax money raised by the four casinos goes directly to the state. Lottery profits, by comparison, are earmarked for municipalities. Last year the lottery earned $974 million from $4.9 billion in sales. Goldberg’s predecessor Steve Grossman predicted that the casinos would hurt the lottery. He cited one study predicting a 21.9 percent drop in lottery revenues.

Goldberg opposes casino gaming and last year supported the referendum that unsuccessfully tried to repeal the gaming law.

She told lawmakers, “It’s very critical as we move into this new era we focus on the fact that we will be competing with those that have had the capacity to brand themselves,” she said. Goldberg says the state lottery advertises less than other lotteries. This was fine in a noncompetitive environment, but won’t work where the lottery is completing with casino resorts for discretionary spending.

The gaming law specifically prevents the casinos from carrying lottery-type games and requires them to carry lottery products.

Goldberg has promised to update the lottery’s terminals and operating system, which she has described as antiquated.

The state collects 49 percent of the lottery’s revenue and will take 25 percent of the casinos’ revenue. The casino resorts must also pay $85 million licensing fees. The single slots parlor must pay $25 million in licensing and 49 percent in taxes.

The American Gaming Association argues that statistics show that lotteries have realized higher sales when casinos are introduced in a state.

AG: No Special Treatment

Newly minted Attorney General Maura Healey last week advised the gaming commission not to give the casinos that will soon come online special dispensation from consumer laws.

She testified “We believe that no casino should be allowed to deviate from important consumer protection regulations and that any other variance should be sought subject to a full and transparent public process.”

The AG said that existing law is ambiguous over where ATMs can be placed in casinos. Should the law be found to allow the ATMS, she urged the commission to require that the machines not be allowed near the casino floor, to disallow credit card advances and to set a limit on cash withdrawals.

The commission interprets the law to allow ATMs inside casinos but not to allow them near gaming areas.