Massachusetts casinos

Forget about the British; are casinos ever coming to Massachusetts? (Image source: Britannica.com)

In 2011, Massachusetts passed casino gambling legislation, but in 2013, it’s still uncertain whether that will lead to any actual casinos being built in the state. While that law made it possible for licensing of up to three casinos in various parts of the state (along with one slots parlor), a combination of reluctant communities and a brutally intrusive gaming commission are starting to make some wonder if anyone will ever get approved for a casino there.

Uphill Battle So Far

Here’s the reality: many communities have rejected the idea of having a casino in their neighborhood. East Boston and Palmer both said no to casinos on this past Election Day, while many other towns stopped proposals from going forward before they ever got on the ballot. That doesn’t mean every casino has been rejected, of course. Milford is working with Foxwoods on a proposal that will be taken to a vote on November 19, while the town of Everett overwhelmingly approved a Wynn project, with 87 percent of voters coming out in favor of it. And MGM won a casino vote in Springfield this summer as well.

But that alone isn’t enough. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission must also approve the companies that will be operating these casinos, and that’s starting to look like a real issue in some of these cases. When Suffolk Downs found out that the commission had serious questions about Caesars working with them, they dropped the casino giant from their proposal – a move that added confusion to the vote in East Boston, and may have ultimately decided the election.

Can Anyone Pass Muster?

Those same questions could be raised with other companies who have yet to be vetted.

“Given what happened with Caesars, it’s certainly a possibility now with Wynn and MGM, because they both have issues with SEC investigations or issues in Macau that have been raised by other commissions,” said Clyde Barrow, professor of public policy at UMass Dartmouth. “If they’re going to apply that same strict standard…we could get to the end of the road and have to start over all again.”

Essentially, there are some companies that have been vetted, but have had their casino plans rejected by towns, and others who have been approved by towns but are yet to receive that same vetting. So far, nobody has passed both steps.

There are some bright signs, if you’re willing to look for them. It’s likely that someone will receive a license for the slot parlor, as several communities have given the green light to hosting that facility, and chances are that the gaming commission will find one or more of them suitable (though in the end, only one will be chosen as the host).

But as for the larger casino projects, some observers are now wondering if the major casino developers may simply give up and leave if the current frontrunners are rejected by Massachusetts, especially if they feel that doing business there is far more trouble than it’s worth. And while the state hasn’t quite reached that point yet, it is certainly getting close.

“At this point, I think it’s on the verge of being a big mess,” Barrow said.