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
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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?!!”
A trip to visit the two Maine casinos is usually accompanied by good food, great beer and a lot of driving. Oh yes…..there was gambling, too. Day 1 was the Oxford Casino & Hotel
We first drove to Oxford Hotel & Casino in Oxford, Maine. The Oxford Casino, owned and operated by Churchill Downs Inc., has 848 slot machines and 22 table games. and opened on June 5, 2012. It has recently gone through the addition of a connecting Hotel, and a new pub dining experience, with rotating beer taps and great craft beer from the Maine. After a five hour drive, this was our first stop. But first, check-in….
Basic Room at Hotel Oxford
Checking was smooth and quick with friendly service. Small lobby desk, but seems to serve them well. Our room was beautiful, with electrical plugs everywhere. Within 5 minutes from getting to our room, we received a call from the front desk asking if everything was as expected, wishing us a great stay – nice touch! Amenities include refrigerator, safe, and Keureg coffee maker in a spacious enough room. The large shower had shampoo & body soap in containers attached to the wall. It was a delightful place to stay.
The Ox Pub
Good food and great beer. The new Ox Pub is a terrific addition. Before the expansion, this little casino just stood alone out in the Maine woods of Oxford, with two food options. But the Hotel, expanded parking, and this Ox Pub seems to round the casino experience. Our beer selections were the Simplicity Orange Maple Wheat from Warren, ME and ironically the Black Hog Granola Brown Ale from Oxford, (wait for it) CT! We both ordered, what else, but the Maine Lobster role with over a pound of lobster, Cole slaw and fries -highly recommended.Great service. They also are known for their Bourbon selection as well as the Maine craft brews.
Now we were ready to survey the casino area, which is very nicely hid from the dining options.
The Expanded Casino Area
It was a Saturday night – should I say more? The casino wasn’t that big in the first place, and although it’s been expanded, it was packed with people. As Bert said, “When you’re the only game in town for miles and miles around, it’s going to be a weekend draw.” The only downside to this slot laden casino on a busy night is that there are no empty machines. Even the video poker, which would total about 30 single line Game Makers were full – even with the terrible pay tables offered.
Saturday’s promotion also contributed to the number of people there. The Super 6 was every hour from 3-8PM (tailored to a mostly over 50 clientele) with both of us winning at least $2 each hour in the drawing of 6 numbers out of 20. East guest picked their own numbers. After the promo was done, the crowd thinned, and there were more opportunities to play.
With no night club, bowling alley, DJ, or entertainment venue (not even a little lounge act) this is not the place that caters to a younger crowd. The race to get millennials inside is really lost ob the owner Churchill Downs, Inc. But, it is not being missed either.
Inside Oxford Casino, Oxford Maine
Slots – many older slots mixed in with some of the latest. Not a lot of tall new tall cabinet machines, but would be out of place here.
Video Poker – 7/5 JOB, 8/5 DDB at $1 level; – should I say more?
Craps – $15 minimum on a Saturday night. Two tables.
Blackjack – 3/2 pays, dealer hits on soft 17, 6 deck shoes. Some with Progressive Blazing 7’s side bet. $15 minimum on weekends, most $25. Morning had a special $3 BJ table!
Other table games included were Roulette, Ultimate Texas Holdem, 3 Card Poker, Spanish 21, Mississippi Stud Poker, and Mini-Baccarat (which didn’t seem very popular.)
There is a high limit room, big enough for a craps table, blackjack table and one more not recognized.
Video Poker Player’s Club
$1 Coin-In = 1 Point
Free Play or Comps: 500 Points = $1 (0.20%)
I would assume slots would earn more points for $1 in, but no way of getting this info at this time
The breakfast buffet in the Oxford Grille, 2 of the three dining options, is very good. Brunch at the Ritz it’s not, but everything was delicious and we would thoroughly recommend this if staying at the hotel. The set-up is well done with a number of the usual breakfast stations, an omelet station, and a waffle station. At $12, this is a bargain.
The expansion is outstanding, the hotel we loved, and the service is great, even though the next closest casino is 120 miles away! Further expansion of the casino should be the next step for Churchill Downs, Inc. because this place is a winner in their portfolio.
Bert’s conclusion was “Service is very friendly, but they know they’re not the star of the show. The staff at Oxford is here to serve the guest.”
Couldn’t say it better myself!
Next, it was on to Bangor with a review of the Hollywood Hotel, Casino & Raceway. see ya next post.