From Here to Eternity: The Massachusetts Casino Journey

Posted on: September 20, 2014, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: September 19, 2014, 09:23h.

Wynn Everett wins East Massachusetts license
The Wynn Resorts casino proposal in Everett is the most recent to win a license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. (Image: Wynn Resorts Holdings)

Massachusetts casino licensing law is back in the news in a big way this week, as the Wynn Everett project won the Greater Boston casino license after a contentious battle against a Mohegan Sun proposal. That decision, which was reached by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in a 3-1 vote, sets the stage for Steve Wynn to build his large resort in Everett, on the site of a former Monsanto plant on the outskirts of Boston.

But it’s also the culmination of more than three years of laws, votes, debates and referendums, all of which combine to write the story of Massachusetts’ casino gambling law. If you’re unfamiliar with what’s going on in the state, here’s a quick recap of everything you need to know to get up to speed.

How It All Started

On November 22, 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Expanded Gaming Act. This bill allowed for four new gambling facilities to be built in the state: three casinos and one slots parlor. Each of the three casino licenses was tied to a specific region: one for Western Massachusetts, one for the Greater Boston area, and one for Southeastern Massachusetts. The slots parlor could be built anywhere in the state.

Developers who wished to apply for one of the four licenses were required to go through an extensive application process, one that included mandatory referendums by local communities where casino proposals were made.

Those referendums ended up being a critical part of the licensing process, as several promising projects failed to earn the approval of voters. Most notably, a plan for a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston was scuttled when votes overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, which eventually led to that plan being resurrected on the Revere side of the Suffolk Downs racetrack.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to award licenses and to whom they should go was determined by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, a five-member panel that oversaw the entire licensing process.

And the Award Goes To…

In late February, the first license was awarded to Penn National Gaming, which earned the right to build a slots parlor in Plainville. That plan was chosen over a Massachusetts Live! proposal in Leominster and a Raynham Park option that did not prove popular with the commission. Ultimately, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of the Penn National plan over the Leominster alternative.

In June, the commission then approved MGM Resorts International for the Western Massachusetts casino license. The commission voted unanimously in favor of awarding the license to the proposed MGM resort in Springfield, which emerged as the only contender in the region.

This week, the gaming commission also awarded the Greater Boston casino license to a Wynn Resorts project in Everett. The Wynn plan was selected over a Mohegan Sun proposal in Revere by a 3-1 vote, with gaming commission Chairman Stephen Crosby recusing himself from the process.

Southeastern Massachusetts License Still to Be Decided

So far, few serious contenders have emerged for the Southeastern Massachusetts casino license, which caused the gaming commission to push back the deadline for applications from September 30, 2014 to December 1 of this year. The region’s timeline was already behind the rest of the state because of the possibility that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe might build a casino in Taunton. When that effort felt through, the region was opened up to developers.

So far, only KG Urban has applied to build in the region, though the commission believes that other applicants who were rejected in the other two regions of the state may try again in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Casino Law Repeal Still a Possibility

There is still the chance that all of these venues may never open. There has been significant opposition to allowing casinos in Massachusetts since the law was first signed, and that has culminated in casino opponents getting a question on a statewide ballot this November that will ask voters if they wish to repeal the casino law. Current polling suggests that such a repeal is unlikely, however: one early September poll by UMass Lowell/7News found that 59 percent of likely voters planed to vote against the repeal effort, with just 36 percent saying they would vote to repeal the law.