Massachusetts Gaming Commission Needs a Renewal Process For Penn National Plainridge Park Casino

Posted on: October 14, 2019, 08:58h. 

Last updated on: October 14, 2019, 11:58h.

Fresh off the debut of Encore Boston Harbor, the state’s third casino, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has another task at hand: formulating a renewal process for the Plainridge Park Casino (PPC), the state’s first gaming property.

Plainridge Park Casino’s license needs to be renewed next year, but regulators have to establish a process prior to moving forward. (Image: Boston Globe)

The 2011 law that approved casino gaming in the Bay State doesn’t contain explicit details about license continuation, other than that operators are subject to a $100,000 renewal fee. PPC, which is a slots-only venue operated by Penn National Gaming, opened for simulcast horse wagering in March 1999, with live racing launching the following month. Slots debuted at the venue in June 2015.

PPC is classified as a Category 2 slots establishment, while MGM Springfield, the first integrated resort in Massachusetts, and Encore Boston Harbor are designated as Category 1 gaming venues. The Penn National venue is taxed on 49 percent of gross gaming revenue (GGR). The state has collected $336.93 million in taxes from PPC since 2015, according to MGC data.

Karen Wells, head of the MGC’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB), said her group is looking for direction from the commission on how to proceed with the PPC renewal.

Again, the IEB is just looking for a general policy directive from the Commission so we know what we’re expected to do for this renewal,” said Wells at the most recent MGC meeting. “And the range could be from the deep dive to do nothing, and, you know, because there’s ongoing suitability.”

In MGC meeting minutes obtained by, Wells suggest a vetting process similar to what IEB already uses for manufacturers of slot and table games. PPC’s initial five-year license expires in June 2020.

Different Policies

Because of differing classifications of PPC and the other Massachusetts gaming properties, there are also varying timelines for renewal. Under state law, PPC’s license must be renewed every five years. But the Category 1 MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor hold 15-year permits.

“As we’ve discussed, once license suitability is ongoing and the burden is on the applicant to maintain that suitability and provide information to the Commission, there is a continuing duty to report,” said Wells. “And our experience with Penn National is they have a very good system of reporting.”

Wells believes the renewal process can be streamlined because Penn National has employees in Massachusetts that are tasked with keeping state regulators abreast of potential issues at PPC, and that those staffers have worked closely with state regulators. She believes the renewal plan can be more efficient because MGC “isn’t coming in cold the way we did back in 2013.”

Avoiding Duplication, Building For The Future

While last week’s MGC meeting did not result in a concrete plan for the PPC renewal, commissioners did discuss the potential benefits of using the 2020 reestablishment as a template for when MGM Springfield’s license comes up for review in 14 years.

MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein believes that if the commission remains vigilant with communication and enforcement, it can avoid duplicative efforts come renewal time.

“I can say more affirmatively, to use these critical resources to really duplicate efforts that have already been done,” she said. “So I would just reiterate that a decision to not do the quote, unquote, deep dive at this time is in no way compromising, or in any way not indicating the importance of our vigilance. It’s that we have been vigilant during the course of the period.”