A lot has happened in the past month here in the Bay State as I’ve been caught up in various travels. Steve Wynn officially pulled out of Foxboro, where he had proposed a massive casino adjacent to the stadium. Locals just weren’t enthused about the project. Similarly, Freetown voters earlier this week resoundingly rejected a casino, as proposed by the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah. Taunton residents head to the polls June 9 to determine the fate of a casino proposal by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands Corp. has stated it will not bid for a casino license in the state, despite the company’s past lobbying efforts here.
All this seems likely to leave Caesars alone in the East, working with Suffolk Downs in East Boston. There is still healthy competition for a license in the western part of the state, and the tribes have until July 31 to secure a compact to be eligible for the third license.
On the administrative front, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has been holding regular public meetings, and chairman Stephen Crosby said this week that the Commission “may not” issue all four available licenses (three casinos and one slot parlor) if changing market conditions won’t support them. That remark drew the ire of some pro-gaming legislators in the state, who said that so much effort went into determining the optimal number of locations that it wasn’t up to the Commission to change the landscape.
But it is a bit refreshing to see Commission members keeping an open mind about what is best for Massachusetts. Sometimes states think that more is always better and go for the quick fix. Illinois legislators have been trying to significantly increase the number of casinos there, despite the fact that revenue from the existing casinos has dropped off dramatically. Well, actually it’s mostly because of that fact – they figure newer is better and revenues will shoot upward again with a massive expansion. Efforts to bring destination casinos are also afoot in Florida, again despite an existing industry and the detrimental effects they could have on current operators. And in New York, Gov. Cuomo wants to have seven full commercial casinos – figuring the nine existing racetrack casinos don’t bring in enough money. Assume that the tracks will bid for and win most of those seven licenses, and at least two tracks are left out in the cold.
In contrast, look at Pennsylvania. There, legislators realize that it is probably not in the best interests of the state to have a second casino in Philadelphia as the law allows. There is a bill in play that would auction that Philadelphia license to the highest bidder anywhere in the state, and it is likely that it won’t be in the greater Philly market. Some elected officials even want to kill the license entirely, believing that the state already has enough gambling.
Of course, these scenarios are different from Massachusetts, which as a new gaming market will likely easily absorb all four properties. And certainly companies wouldn’t be interested if they didn’t agree. But as I said, it’s good that the Commissioners are concerned about market conditions and the health of all eventual licensees.