Plans Continue for Massachusetts Casinos as Voters Choose Not to Repeal Expanded Gaming Act

Massachusetts Gaming

By E. Abim Thomas

Massachusetts voters rejected the repeal of the 2011 gaming law on Tuesday, November 4, with 60% of voters statewide saying “NO” to Question 3.  Plans can now move forward for up to three commercial casinos and one slots parlor in the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded the Greater Boston license to Wynn Resorts and the Western Massachusetts license to MGM Springfield.  Wynn expects to spend $1.6 billion on its casino in Everett, while MGM plans to devote $800 million to its downtown Springfield casino.  Both companies are now expected to pay an $85 million licensing fee, which had been delayed until after the ballot question was decided.

Penn National, the recipient of the state’s lone slots parlor license, has already paid the statutorily required license fee of $25 million and is in the midst of building its $225 million Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.  Penn National decided not to slow or suspend its construction when the ballot question that could have terminated its project was approved for the ballot back in June, and is now on track to open in mid-2015.  Phase 1 applications for a Southeastern Massachusetts casino are now due to the Commission at the end of January 2015.

While polling consistently indicated that Question 3 was likely to fail, the successful defense of the casino law was assisted by a 10-1 spending margin of the pro-casino “Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs” versus the “Repeal the Casino Deal” group.  Casino opponents cited increased gambling addiction, traffic, and crime, as well as potential customer losses from small businesses.  But the group fighting for Massachusetts casinos to remain on course raised millions of dollars from Penn National, MGM, and Wynn, and ran a campaign including thousands of television advertisements highlighting the jobs that the casino industry promises to bring to Massachusetts.

Early polling also indicated a “not-in-my-backyard” opinion regarding casinos, where generally people supported casinos in Massachusetts as long as they were not in their town.  However, Tuesday’s election results demonstrated that the host communities overwhelmingly support a casino coming to town.  In Springfield, 64% voted against the casino law repeal demonstrating its support for MGM’s project.  Everett’s support was even higher with 75% voting against the casino law repeal.

Similarly in Plainville, 80% of voters voted to keep their upcoming slots parlor (granted, there were only 3,342 voters total in Plainville).  Interestingly, even most of the surrounding areas of the future casinos voted against the repeal.  For example, for the contentious Greater Boston license, Medford, Malden, Revere, Chelsea, and even Boston overwhelmingly rejected the casino repeal with 53%, 62%, 57%, 60%, and 55% voting No on Question 3 respectively.  Cambridge and Somerville were the only neighboring communities to vote to repeal the law (61% and 57% voting Yes on Question 3 respectively).

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