Tuesday was the deadline for companies to pony up $400,000 and submit pre-qualifying applications for a Massachusetts gaming license, and four groups waited until the last day to show their hand. They joined seven other applications that had already been received by Monday. Most of the applicants have practically become household names here in Massachusetts, having been in the news on a regular basis for months now. But there were a few who had been nosing around a little under the radar.
For the Boston-area license, what once appeared to be a slam-dunk for Suffolk Downs and its partner Caesars Entertainment has turned into a real horse race. Casino mogul Steve Wynn has a proposal for a site in Everett, a stone’s throw from Suffolk’s East Boston location, while local developer David Nunes filed an application under the name of Crossroads Massachusetts for a site he owns in Milford, about 40 miles southwest of his competition.
Out west, the players came in as expected for the Western Massachusetts casino license. Hard Rock, MGM Resorts, Mohegan Sun and Penn National Gaming have signaled their intentions for some time with proposals for the Springfield area and Palmer.
There were no surprises in the competition for the state’s lone slot parlor, with Raynham Park coming in to compete with Plainridge Racecourse. Interestingly, Plainridge submitted its intent and paid the fee on the first possible day last August, while Raynham waited until the last day to put its money up.
Any of these licenses could see even more competition, as two companies submitted applications and paid the non-refundable fee as required but declined to specify the site, region or license type in which they were interested. Mass Gaming & Entertainment is headed by billionaire Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming, which currently operates casinos in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Des Plaines, Ill. PPE Casino Resorts is affiliated with The Cordish Companies, developer of several leading casinos including the Maryland Live! Casino which opened last summer south of Baltimore. My guess is that Bluhm is interested in a full casino license while Cordish may be looking at the slot parlor, having recent experience in that area.
There is the possibility that the third casino license (in southeast Massachusetts) may become available for commercial competition later this year if the state is unable to come to a new agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. A compact was signed last summer, but rejected at the federal level.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission now begins its extensive background investigations on all applicants to determine their suitability for a license. Those deemed qualified will be eligible for Phase 2 of the process, which will begin this summer. The first of the casino licenses should be issued in early 2014. However, the slot parlor license is on the fast track and the Commission expects to award that license by the end of this year.
Coming next week: A review of 2012 gaming revenues across the U.S.