Residents of Massachusetts have chosen to uphold the state’s three-year-old casino law, voting overwhelmingly in yesterday’s midterms in favor of maintaining the fledgling casino market, as the polls had predicted.
Somewhat confusingly, “no” meant “yes” for casinos on this ballot, as voters were asked whether the law should be repealed, with 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent deciding that no, it should not be repealed, meaning that yes, they wanted casinos.
Some commentators have suggested that the language used in posing the question was deliberately muddled and designed to confuse.
Nevertheless, it’s a victory for MGM and Wynn Resorts, who have had their respective projects given the greenlight by regulators and who can now finally and definitely move forward with the licensing process, a privilege for which they will fork out $85 million a piece before a single cornerstone is laid.
Not surprisingly, casino executives were jubilant and anxious to emphasize what the casinos will do for their future communities.
“Voters across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today voiced their support of the 10,000 permanent job opportunities and significant economic benefits provided by the Gaming Act of 2011,” said pleased MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren. “MGM Resorts International would like to thank the thousands of volunteers and supporters who understood exactly what was at stake and worked so hard to bring this historic opportunity to realization for themselves and their neighbors … we can now begin the work of rebuilding a great downtown, and igniting a renaissance in Western Massachusetts.”
The Next Big Step
MGM now plans to build an $800 million casino resort on a 14.5-acre plot in downtown Springfield, with construction likely to begin in the spring and a scheduled opening in the summer of 2017.
Wynn Resorts, meanwhile, which fought a protracted bidding war with Mohegan Sun for the right to apply for the sole east Massachusetts license, a right it was granted only in early September, will go ahead with its plans to build a $1.6 billion casino on a contaminated former chemical plant in Everett, north of Boston. Wynn will pay millions to have the site cleaned up and decontaminated before construction ensues.
“While it has been a long process, the benefits to everyone in the Commonwealth will be worth it,” said Wynn Resorts Senior Vice President Robert DeSalvio.
Never in Doubt?
The third license was secured earlier in the year by Penn National Gaming, which quickly moved ahead with its plans to expand Plainridge Park harness racetrack into a slots parlor, despite knowing there was a chance that the bill could be repealed.
“It’s a risk, but it’s a calculated risk,” said Jay Snowden, Penn National’s chief operating officer, several months back. “We’re confident we’ll prevail in November.”
And he was right, but the issue was perhaps never really in doubt. While the Repeal the Deal contingent was vocal, it lacked the funding of its powerful opponents, and the pro-casino vote had led consistently in the polls.
According to recent campaign finance reports, “no” (meaning yes) vote campaigners had raised nearly $12 million, most of it donated by casino companies, while the “yes” meaning no vote was able to raise just $675,000.
MGM donated $2.5 million and Wynn Resorts $1 million, while Penn National topped the bill with $3.2 million. This was the reason that the pro-casino effort was able to spend $2 million on casino advertising in October alone, at a time when its opponents were a declaring a balance of $30,000 and debts of $400,000.