By Bob Crawford
Just nine days after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly supported a future for gaming in Massachusetts by rejecting an effort to repeal the state’s casino law, Goodwin Procter’s Gaming and Gambling Practice co-hosted an event with the Boston Bar Association that addressed the result of the vote and how it will impact the future of casino-style gaming in Massachusetts.
(Photo reprinted with permission of the Boston Bar Association)
Goodwin’s Abim Thomas served as moderator of the panel that included Lance George, Vice President and General Manager of Plainridge Park Casino, Penn National Gaming, Inc.; Jacqui Krum, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Wynn Resorts Development; and Michael Mathis, President and Chief Operating Officer of MGM Springfield.
The event began with opening remarks by Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner James McHugh. Commissioner McHugh enthusiastically touted the quality of the three current licensees and the excitement for what they are each bringing to the Commonwealth. Specifically, he talked about Plainridge Park Casino’s already demonstrated positive economic effect and its planned opening in the summer of 2015, MGM Springfield’s “extraordinarily good brand” and the “transformational project” planned for the Springfield area previously devastated by a tornado, and Wynn Resorts’ highly recognized and successful company with its “rich plan” for managing the pollution and bringing “creative luxury” to the Everett site. Commissioner McHugh emphasized the quality of the facilities, the companies and the people who run them, and he highlighted the economic benefits and the jobs that are coming to the Commonwealth as a result of the facilities.
Beyond writing operating regulations and interagency agreements necessary to get the two licensed casinos and one licensed slots parlor up and running, Commissioner McHugh also addressed the three main next steps for the Commission:
- Region C (Southeastern Massachusetts): The Commissioner spoke about the unique legal intricacies and complex competitive environment that has delayed the license process for the remaining casino license, specifically due to a possible Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Casino in Taunton. But, the Region C license process is progressing with Phase I applications due at the end of January, Phase II applications due at the end of May, and an anticipated license decision for Region C in September or October of 2015.
- Vendor and Employee Licenses: Commissioner McHugh stated that 10,000 vendor and employee licensees are anticipated for the various gaming operations. He spoke of the plan to target the underemployed segments of the Commonwealth and the plans in place to bring various individuals into the pipeline, specifically working with Massachusetts Community Colleges.
- Responsible Gaming: The Commissioner expressed enthusiasm for the work being done on responsible gaming by both the Commission and the licensees. He stated that Massachusetts is spending more on this area than any other gambling jurisdiction in the United States. Specifically, the Commission is currently gathering baseline data to enable it to later evaluate and address all aspects of the gaming industry’s effects on the community.
After the Commissioner spoke, Abim Thomas directed the panel of licensee representatives through a variety of topics on their activities since the election decision. With an opening anticipated in a little over six months, Mr. George indicated that Plainridge Park has been working on being weather tight to continue its construction throughout the winter and will continue to work to achieve its aggressive local hiring goal of 90%. Mr. Mathis of MGM Springfield discussed the number of people and companies reaching out regarding employment, and how MGM Springfield is assisting to establish the baseline data necessary to demonstrate that it is accomplishing its goals, specifically stating that the data being gathered for the Commission consists of a level of detail that has never existed in the industry. And Ms. Krum of Wynn, the most recent recipient of a license, stated that it has moved from low gear to high gear very quickly, and is continuously reaching out to and working with the host and surrounding communities, and will continue to work to improve the relationships with the surrounding communities, already noting that relationships with its surrounding communities have improved since the license was granted.
In the next six months, Wynn is focusing on environmental and traffic issues, as well as its re-design of its building, already in progress. MGM Springfield is working on logistics of closing on various parcels of property and staying focused on construction. Plainridge Park is expecting that the next six months will be focused on working collaboratively with the Commission to address responsible gaming, licensing of vendors, and internal controls necessary to open on time.
For those seeking employment beyond construction, both Wynn and MGM Springfield stressed the need to recognize the timeline – jobs are coming, but are not here yet as the focus right now is on the sites and construction. All three licensees want to work to educate potential vendors and employees as this industry is opening in a new jurisdiction with new requirements. When asked about their top concern, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park discussed their ambitious goals of local hiring, particularly given the areas where they are located and the need to hire and train the local population.
All three licensees discussed continuing to work with the Commission on regulatory issues, such as taxable jackpots and banking laws, and possibly other legislative changes in order to stay competitive for the market, compared particularly to Connecticut and other nearby gambling jurisdictions. MGM Springfield’s Michael Mathis specifically noted that the vote on Question 3 demonstrated that the Commonwealth supports these casinos, which should assist in any necessary policy changes. While in any new jurisdiction there will be opposition and people concerned, the licensees are eager to continue to provide information and education about the products and benefits they are bringing to the Commonwealth, and have already seen signs that the more education provided, the more support they receive.