Mass Gaming Commission Taking Time to Make Some Good Decisions

Reaching Out to the Communities touched by Casino Expansion
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously to contract with the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts at Boston a the $40,000 project that would produce a report on items that should be included in agreements between communities and casino companies.

Under the casino law, developers will need agreements with communities where casinos would locate and with “surrounding” communities. The deals could include payments or other ways to alleviate the effects of a casino on traffic, education, water and sewer and public safety. In another move that affects communities, the commission agreed to provide one more week to receive comments on a draft of a definition of “a surrounding community” to help negotiations move forward.

Developers planning casinos, including the Mohegan Sun in Palmer, or MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming in Springfield, may need to negotiate a half dozen or so agreements just with surrounding communities. For example, seven communities share a border with Palmer, for example, and each could potentially at least seek money or other concessions from a Palmer casino.

People in a host community would vote in a referendum on a proposed casino deal before a company applies for a state license. However, residents in surrounding communities do not get to vote.

Integrity Matters More than Speed
In other news from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Chairman Stephen Crosby said Tuesday that decisions on casinos casinos need to be based on the impact the projects will have over a span of decades, not on how soon a casino can be built.

Crosby said. “Integrity matters more than speed. We really need to look at it as a long game. We need to think really carefully about over the course of decades, not the next year and a half, what will have the long-term best impact on the community, on the region, and on the state.”

“Fifteen years from now, no one will remember that this process took six months longer than some would have liked,” Crosby said.

The commission does not have any preconceptions about the advantages of one casino project over another, Crosby said. For example, the commission neither favors an urban casino nor a suburban casino, but is strictly set to act on the merits of each proposal forwarded, he said.

Once casino projects are forwarded by the communities to the Gaming Commission, “we decide, and we decide on the merits,” Crosby said.

On related issues, Crosby said:

• Community leaders will create the wording of ballot questions on casinos, not the commission, but the commission stands ready to respond to any questions for advice on the referendum.

• The commission believes it has performed well in establishing its organization from scratch, now numbering 25 staff members and a $7.5 million budget, and in its task of promoting strong competition for the three available casino licenses and one slots parlor license.

• Springfield could push for a ballot question on casino gambling to coincide with the June 25 special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat, but that could be “a gamble” if state background checks are not yet completed by the commission, or if a company was disqualified and under appeal. He believed a September vote would not be a problem.

• The commission will strive to be as objective as possible in weighing any casino proposal submitted for consideration. That process will include an evaluation system and scoring system on issues such as jobs, revenues and traffic mitigation.

• He is not concerned about reports that casinos are becoming less profitable than in the past. The slip is related to the economy, and most of the people pursuing casinos are “smart business people” and would not pursue a project if not deemed a sound investment.

• The traffic mitigation plans by the various casino companies are probably a top issue with the commission.

So, it seems that the commission wants to cooperate with the communities involved, no matter how long it might take. And while it seems that the haste to get these casinos up and running might be too slow for some, the proof will be at the end of the journey.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow is Foxwoods Friday.