What seemed to be a slow trot towards socially approving gambling in New England has changed to a sprint, with no finish line in sight. Expansion continues, with the word “saturation” thrown around annually. While we don’t know what the future holds concerning sports betting, casinos in Bridgeport, CT., East Windsor, CT., and southeastern Massachusetts, and the future competition in southern New England, we can look back to see how we got here.
My interest in gambling history began with playing card games – playing cribbage and Michigan Rummy while in elementary school. With visits to Hartford Jai-Alai and Plainfield Greyhound Racetrack during my twenties, visits to the Sands in Atlantic City and Foxwoods Bingo in my thirties, and the Connecticut expansion in the 1990’s, I was hooked.
“Roll the Bones” by Dr. David Schwartz
One of my favorite books is “Roll the Bones” by Dr. David Schwartz. In his book, Dr. Dave explains that “….the human predilection for a wager shaped human history from the Ice Age to the Information Age. People spend nearly one trillion dollars worldwide on gambling a year–wouldn’t you like to learn a little about how we got there?” The fact is, I did!.
New England played a big part in the assertion of gambling in America. According to the California State Library, English settlers differed from their Puritanical neighbors in New England in many ways, but one influenced the early colonies to continue traditional styles of living in a new world , which included gambling, considering as a “harmless diversion, a popular and accepted activity.” Lotteries were used to bail out the Early Colonies when financial backers of the colonies began to see gambling as the solution to diminishing finances needed for the war effort. All 13 original colonies established lotteries, usually more than one, to raise revenue. Lotteries continue to be a main source of revenue for all six New England states.
Once Upon a time….
The Pequot War of 1637 set the stage for the separation of Pequot & Mohegan Tribes. Over 350 years after, both tribes started the New England Casino expansion we see today.
The Pequot and Mohegan Tribes were once one tribe, but war with colonists, differences with other tribes, and different tribal and colonial alliances caused a split that continues to this day. Over 250 years later, a bingo hall in 1985 began the history of gaming in New England.
I should mention that casino gambling found a home in the 1800’s in Newport, Rhode Island, not to mention the numerous greyhound & horse tracks, parimutuel parlors, and Jai alai frontons in Milford & Hartford CT, and Newport, RI. However, in the past ten years, the horse-racing industry has seen a major decrease in raceway operations, Jai-Alai has moved out of the state, and parimutuel parlors continue to diminish in popularity, which may change with more legal sports betting in all six states
I you enjoy my look back at the journey of legalized gambling in New England below.
The New England Casino Historical Dateline:
Foxwoods Started it all with Bingo. This picture is the expanded Bingo Hall before Casino Expansion in 1992.
The first New England Casino as Foxwoods opens its doors in Mashantucket, CT
The Rainmaker at Foxwoods Resort Casino – part of the original casino before many expansions.
Rhode Island approves VLT gaming machines (classII) at Lincoln Greyhound Park & Newport Jai Alai
The Mohegan Tribe opens the second NE casino in Uncasville, CT
A Dollar Coin from Mohegan Sun Opening
Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway opens in Bangor, Maine
Hollywood Casino, Bangor Maine
Lincoln Greyhound Park turns into Twin River Casino with class III gaming; Newport Grand soon follows, redesigning without Jai-Alai
Twin River as Lincoln Park before Major Expansion
MGM joins Foxwoods with additional hotel / casino
MGM Tower at Foxwoods – Right side.
MA legislature approves Expanded Gaming Act allowing construction of 3 Resort casinos & one “slot’s only casino”
Oxford Casino opens in Oxford, Maine
Oxford Casino, Maine
MGM pulls out of it’s Foxwoods partnership
MGM Ends Agreement with Foxwoods
Plainridge Park Casino Opens at Plainridge Raceway as the first Massachusetts casino (slots-only)
Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts
A Big Year for Gambling, Casinos and Hotels in New England:
Oxford Casino, Oxford ME, adds Hotel, expanded casino and Ox Pu
Oxford Hotel & Casino
MGM Springfield Resort Casino opens
Newport Grand Slots Casino closes
Newport Grand Slots, Newport, RI
Tiverton Casino & Hotel opens
Tiverton Casino/ Hotel.
Twin River Casino adds Hotel
Twin River Hotel Lobby
Mohegan Sun opens Earth Expo Center
Mohegan Expo Center
Rhode Island approves and opens the first Sports Betting in New England
Opening day of Phase I Sports Book at Twin River Casino
Encore Boston Harbor to open in the fall
Encore Boston Harbor rendition, courtesy of Encore Boston Harbor pressroom
You can find this post as a permanent menu item in our header above.
With all the attention on MGM Springfield, the Connecticut casinos and the Wynn – oops – I mean Encore Boston Harbor, the first casino in Massachusetts is getting a little forgotten in the mix.
Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, the state’s first (and for almost three years only) legal gambling establishment, wants to expand and offer table games as well as the slot machines they currently feature. The last three years have been progressively better until the past months when most of New England’s casinos saw a decrease in revenue from a year ago.
All the negative expectations have been proven wrong to this point, especially the fear it would have a negative impact on Plainville and neighboring communities and it would attract an “undesirable element.” Many claimed it would not provide the expected revenue. Instead, Plainridge has been a great neighbor, large employer and good corporation to work with the MGC and the State of Massachusetts.
Penn National, owner of Hollywood Bangor Casino Hotel in Maine, as well as many casinos and racinos across the country, knew being first with a slots-only establishment would have a major drawback – not having real blackjack, craps, roulette and other table games. To this point they have successful at every turn. It is greatly supported by locals and others in 20 mile radius that prefer a smokeless casino with only electronic versions of tables games.
Here Come the Big Guys
MGM Springfield opened with a bang – but it is over an hour and a half away, so not much of threat to Plainridge. The Rhode Island casinos continue to be a threat to Plainridge Park Casino, now with the addition of sports betting. But the real menace over the hill is in Everett – Encore Boston Harbor.
New casinos in Springfield and soon in Boston will fight any such move for tables games at Plainridge vehemently. They invested in this process understanding the rules. And they didn’t put their millions or billions of dollars up with the idea that competition beyond what they were promised would be allowed.
Any expansion to table games by Plainridge would need state legislative approval. Getting the Massachusetts Legislature to do virtually anything is a monumental task. And this area is not exactly known for its political influence. Town officials in Plainville, North Attleboro and Wrentham have come out in favor.
Entrance To Plainville’s Good Neightbor
Jim Hand of the Sun Chronicle reported “In letters to the state Gaming Commission, Plainville, Wrentham, North Attleboro and Franklin officials said they would support allowing table games and more slot machines at Plainridge, terming the changes “a modest expansion……The expansion at Plainridge would require a legislative change, as it is designated as only a slots parlor and not a full-blown casino under state law.”
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, who represents Plainville, said he is on board with the request. “We have an ongoing venture that is working extremely well with virtually no negative impact on the community,” he said. “The community wants it. And the addition of other games will help us compete against Rhode Island which just built another casino on our border.”
Recently, Plainridge Park has seen a dip in revenue, as most of the eight New England casinos. Clyde Barrow, a casino researcher at the University of Texas Rio Grand Valley, said, “A drop in revenue is to be expected, just as Plainridge cut into the take at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I. I anticipated a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in Plainridge revenues as a result of the Tiverton casino, so I would say the lower September revenues are directly attributable to the new competition,” he said. However, such a small loss suggests that Plainridge remains competitive and doesn’t have much to fear from Tiverton Twin River Casino.”
A Quiet Acquisition
Penn National Gaming, Owner of Plainridge Park Casino and Raceway
As reported by Marc Meltzer from PlayUsa, “Penn National Gaming acquired Pinnacle Gaming. The massive $2.8 billion deal makes Penn National Gaming one of the largest casino corporations in the country. The new Penn National Gaming may not have the largest casinos in the country. However, the new deal means that they will operate more casinos and racetracks than any other company in the US. After the acquisition, Penn National Gaming will operate more than 40 properties in 15 states.”
Mr. Meltzer also comments about the rewards club change due to the buy out. “While Penn National Gaming will be the owner of the properties, they will actually be using the loyalty club from Pinnacle Entertainment instead of their own Marquee Rewards. In 2019, the Marquee Rewards program will be migrated over to the mychoice players club.”
Plainridge has done well for itself and has built a nice locals clientele. But it’s future may be bleak and for Massachusetts’ expected revenue if it continues as a slot-only property. I’m sure we will hear more as we turn the page to 2019.
When I first started NETimeGambling, I hoped that New England would have become the Biloxi-Gulfport, Mississippi of the northeast, an extended area of casinos offering gamblers the variety and quality to go along with the area’s historical and cultural tourism.
Was I naive or what? Just watching the nasty competition between the casino industry in Massachusetts and Connecticut proves that. This law suit, this rumor, that accusation – all for the almighty buck with little consideration for consumers, residents and players, let alone the New England Tourist industry. Although community recognition and financial help and development is included in many expansions, we all know they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to in getting that gaming license – it’s all business and bean-counting to them.
Yes, my early naivete has changed to a growing cynicism. The last two years have allowed negative thoughts from the dark side of the gambling industry to infiltrate the hopes and dreams of a bustling tourist industry. Fees, higher house odds, diminishing comps, and rewards clubs cutbacks in awards have tainted my outlook, as well as many of us in the casino community.
Am I bitter?…..A little. But great competition, as vile and ornery as it may be, is still in the consumer’s benefit. We can only hope it continues to bring greater value to our gambling guests in New England without jobs and community assistance lost.
OUR 6TH ANNIVERSARY!
This month marks our 6th year anniversary of NETimeGambling.com. So much of our casino landscape has changed and continues to evolve. Let’s look at the beginning of NETimeGambling and see what we were writing about in 2012. As this article enfolds, certain corrections, additions, opinions and explanations will be added to bring the last six years up date. These comments will be bold, italicized and green so you can’t missed them.
CHRISTMAS PAST – 2012
The beginning of casino gambling in New England began in both Connecticut and Rhode Island. In 1992 with Foxwoods opening its doors in Mashantucket, CT, and that same year Rhode Island approved VLT gaming machines (classII) at Lincoln Greyhound Park & Newport Jai Alai casinos. For a short history of casino gambling in New England, go to NEW ENGLAND CASINO HISTORY
When NETG started covering New England’s casinos, revenue had continued due to the recession of 2007. Let’s see what each state was up to…..
In 2012, our first year of blogging, Connecticut’s two behemoth casinos were feeling the pinch of the recession. Layoffs occurred and revenue to the state declined. The large retail addition and hotel at Mohegan Sun were put on hold indefinitely. MGM & Foxwoods parted ways, and other CT tribes also wanted a part of the casino pie. Luckily, they were still the only place around – but not for long. Rhode Island had seen a slight increase with hopes to get its table games up and running to take away from CT’s two Mega-casinos and before MA casinos were to be built. (Twin River received local approval for table games, Newport Grand slot parlor did not. In retrospect, Foxwoods saw a great expected loss in players than Mohegan Sun.)
Massachusetts intended to add three, if not four, casinos within three years to take back the revenue lost in RI & CT.
Massachusetts Regions for full casinos. Doesn’t include Mashpee Wampanoags in Taunton or Plainridge Park Slot Parlor in Plainville
New Hampshire wanted to keep their citizens and revenue at home as well, so they considered legalizing gambling. (Three times, only to be turned down all three times. While NH has a budding community poker business, there is no casino in site.)
Maine had two casinos in 2012, one with a hotel and one considering hotel expansion.
And lest we forget that Atlantic City was still reeling from the recession and the arrogant denial as a day-tripping only destination. Completion and expansion from the likes of PA, NY, CT and DEL, and New Jersey’s own consideration of statewide gaming soon saw the demise of the East Coast’s #1 gambling Destination. Atlantic City was already down to 9 Casinos, soon to be 7. (While this sounds dire – and it was – it is nice to see a recent resurgence at America’s Playground.)
CHRISTMAS PRESENT 2018
Mohegan Sun Earth Tower to the right.
Connecticut casinos had stabilized a bit, with positive revenue months becoming more frequent. Then MGM Springfield opened. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun would collaborate in opening a casino in East Windsor to counteract the opening of MGM Springfield and keep more gaming dollars in Connecticut. The Department of the Interior needed to approve the third casino but the request went unanswered for months, with intense lobbying by MGM. (With a new governor in CT and the rotating door policy in the Trump administration, hope is still alive for the joint casino at the CT/MA border in East Windsor, but there are still a lot of hoops left for sure.)
Mohegan Sun pushed forward, adding another hotel and a huge convention space addition – the largest expo space along the New York-Boston I-95 corridor. The Mohegan Sun Arena, voted Arena of the year numerous times, continues to be the entertainment jewel of New England’s casinos.
Foxwoods tried a different route to make itself a destination to stay for gamblers and families alike. Numerous “thrill rides” have been added and family entertainment continues, while it’s Dance Clubs try to entice younger guests to the premises. With the most hotel rooms onsite of any New England Casino/Resort, Foxwoods is able to tease gamblers with free rooms to go along with it’s fabulous dining options. (This immense property continues to be hampered by it’s location “in the woods” in recent years, since casinos are rising up everywhere.)
Tiverton Casino/ Hotel.
Rhode Island’s dependence on gaming revenue continues. With the addition of table games, Twin River Management Group, owners of Twin River Casino & Hotel and Tiverton Casino & Hotel in Rhode Island, as well as and The Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, stepped up the battle for casino patrons with Massachusetts by opening the new Tiverton Casino & Hotel. The Newport Grand Casino, was bought and moved to Tiverton – right on the Mass-RI border. Both Twin River and Tiverton boast hotels attached to their casinos and are now the only casinos in New England to offer Sports Betting. Twin River Casino still offers one of the top 10 largest casino floors in the country.
Massachusetts continues to add drama to casino expansion in New England. Penn National opened Plainridge Park Casino in 2015, the slots-only casino and first casino to open in Massachusetts, and has continued to build its own loyal customers. But the big news was the opening of Massachusetts’ first full fledged Las Vegas style casino – MGM Springfield. The opening was a splashing success, initiating a resurgence in Springfield’s financial future and quality of life. The style of “Industrial Chic” permeates the property as one of the recent American casinos designed for the middle of a urban area.
Inside MGM casino
Oh, by the way, did you know another casino hall is going into Eastern Massachusetts? The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) was cleared to build a class II gaming facility, or bingo hall, by the U.S. Supreme Court last January. Since then, few details have emerged about the plans, although in September the tribe’s gaming faction announced a partnership with an Oklahoma Native American gaming operation owned by the Chickasaw Nation. According to reports from tribal members, Global Gaming Solutions has agreed to invest $12 million to build a 10,000-square-foot bingo facility
The Mashpee Wampanoag’scasino in Taunton, MA, has been stalled by political red tape and completion looks bleak. The U.S. federal government, through the Department of Interior (DoI), had issued a decision stating that the the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe would not be granted the disputed land in trust for developing the First Light Resort & Casino in Taunton, South of Boston. Genting Malaysia had issued about $274 million, but construction of the resort was hampered by local residents who said the 2015 awarding of the 300 acres for putting up a casino was a misinterpretation of the Indian Reorganization Act.
New Hampshire will never approve a Las Vegas style casino for itself, but it seems the Charitable Gambling Law is alive and well in the Granite State. Poker rooms, including other table games, are increasing in popularity.
Maine’s two casinos continue to hold their own while chaos continues in southern New England. Oxford Casino expanded with added meeting space and an attached hotel. A third casino in Maine was introduced again for the York County area in a referendum for only one suitor, but, once again crashed and burned.
Much of this past year’s expectations was marred by a downturn in reality.
All casinos saw an eventual decline in revenue – except Oxford Casino & Hotel. That dirty “S” word raised it’s ugly head again – Saturation.
Steve Wynn with his rendition of Wynn Boston Harbor
The casino mogul Steve Wynn resigned as chairman and chief executive of his company, Wynn Resorts, in response to sexual misconduct allegations spanning decades. This spawned numerous rumors of ownership and an eventual change in name for the Boston Licensed casino to Encore Boston Harbor. Construction continues to proceed on time, but The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is determining if a penalty or potential license revocation is warranted for Wynn Resorts’ $2.6 billion Encore Boston Harbor casino. The agency is investigating if the company purposely withheld knowledge of its founder’s alleged sexual misconduct during its 2013 bidding for the coveted Boston-area gaming permit. (This has caused many controversial rumors and questions. Will Caesars Entertainment, Mohegan Sun, or another industry giant step in to claim the license? Will MGM sell it’s new MGM Springfield to be able to get the Encore Boston Harbor license? Etc….. Speculation abounds)
Finally, Plainridge Park Casino & Raceway may be getting worried about it’s instate rival in Boston. Concerns are now being raised to change the license and add tabled games – a move that could save it and place more pressure on Rhode Island casinos.
CHRISTMAS FUTURE……What will 2020 Look Like?
Let me get out my crystal ball – or my magic eight ball – and look into New England’s Gambling Future…….
There will be nine casinos in four states. One class II, and one Slot’s-only. Online gambling in MA, RI, sports betting in MA, RI, NH, & CT.
Springfield, Massachusetts will continue to experience a renaissance, and MGM will continue to feel stuck owning MGM Springfield while under producing the revenue and profit expected.
Encore Boston Harbor rendition, courtesy of Boston Harbor pressroom
Encore Boston Harbor, having been fined, continues to be owned by the same company minus Steve Wynn, hosting guests from all over the U.S. with exquisite hotel accommodations, high profile dining and crappy gambling.
Connecticut casinos will have to continue to diversify. Foxwoods becomes an amusement destination as well as a casino resort. Mohegan Sun will continue construction on it’s huge project across the river of retail, housing, and wellness, including a water park.
Convenience casinos such as Oxford, Hollywood, Plainridge, Tiverton, continue a status quo existence fighting for locals in Tiverton, RI., Plainville, MA., and Maine.
The Mohegan / Mashantucket tribes joint casino in East Windsor, CT will not be built. Open bidding for another casino in the southwest of CT will jeopardize the pact between the state of CT and the The Mohegan / Mashantucket tribes. Sports betting will be available at the casinos and the availability at OTB and Keno stations will definitely nullify the pact for sole rights to gambling if the open bidding process is defeated.
Will there ever be a vision of prosperity for casinos, with good gambling rules, free parking, more casino hotels, and patrons that are welcomed with smiling aces, appreciated and rewarded sincerely? For the sake of New England’s recreational gamblers and New England Tourism, we once again ask, “CAN WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!!”