When a casino opens in Greater Boston, that giant sucking sound you will hear won’t be the sound of dollars being taken out of the economy, but rather high rollers enjoying Wellfleet half shells from Union Oyster House.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt anybody,” said Joe Milano, who owns the popular restaurant by Faneuil Hall that opened in 1826. “It’s an added attraction to history. When you add people, they have to eat.”
As communities across the state decide on casinos, businesses from restaurants to florists are lining up for a piece of the action. The anticasino faction wants you to believe gaming will not only siphon money from the luckless, but also out of local businesses. Instead of patronizing shops and restaurants, everyone will be inside gambling palaces playing slots.
For sure, there will be winners and losers now that Beacon Hill has opened the Pandora’s box on casinos. Care to wager whether this will be good or bad for the economy? Most likely, we will come out even: Jobs are created, but not high-paying ones; locals gamble more, but spend less on the lottery; more visitors arrive, but not all venture out of gaming halls.
Still, with hundreds of millions of dollars sloshing around, savvy companies, from Barbara Lynch’s restaurants to Kelly’s Roast Beef, stand to gain. Some have inked partnerships, and others are already doing business with casinos in hopes it will lead to bigger deals.
Pinocchio’s Restaurant and Catering is one of nearly 100 businesses enrolled in Mohegan Sun’s Massachusetts rewards program. Under it, players at the $1 billion casino Mohegan wants to build in Palmer would rack up points as they gamble. Points can be used like cash to pay for a hotel stay or a meal at the casino, but can also be redeemed off property.
“I am very excited,” said Pinocchio’s owner, Chris Brunelle, who projects the annual revenue at his Three Rivers restaurant could double to $2 million from all the new customers gambling will bring in.
Casinos are known for keeping patrons on the premises, but now they want to win over the state gaming commission. The commission will award up to three licenses for resort casinos, and a critical factor is economic benefit to the community.
“We’re basically willing to spread the wealth,” said Mitchell Etess, chief executive of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which runs Mohegan’s Indian casino in Connecticut.
Before Caesars was dropped from the Suffolk Downs proposal in East Boston, gaming executives were recruiting hotels and restaurants to its rewards program. Milano, of Union Oyster House, had a handshake agreement from Caesars to send players to his place, as did Steve DiFillippo, chief executive of Davio’s, the Italian steakhouse chain. Suffolk Downs, which remains without a casino operator, said it will continue to honor those arrangements.
“It’s a lot of PR to get the votes. Let’s not kid ourselves here,” said DiFillippo.
He looked at opening a Davio’s at a Springfield casino, but that didn’t work out. DiFillippo is not fond of casinos, but said: “It’s better to embrace it, I think, than ignore it. . . . Keep your enemies close.”
Lynch, too, entertained opening at a casino in Western Massachusetts, said Jefferson Macklin, president and chief operating officer of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, the umbrella group for the chef-owner’s restaurants.
She’d still be interested. “We are a brand known in Massachusetts, and if the conditions were right, we would consider it,” said Macklin.
For other companies, being casino vendors will be the windfall. They’ll supply everything from linens to limo services. Mohegan estimates it will spend about $50 million annually on local vendors, and Wynn Resorts, which is proposing a casino in Everett, expects to spend tens of millions of dollars annually.
Wynn has dropped about $1 million locally this year, including more than $10,000 at Marji’s Florist and Gift Shop in Everett. Owner Marlene Zizza hopes Wynn will continue to use her for deliveries and events. “It will be a boon, an opportunity of a lifetime for growth,” said Zizza.
When the casinos arrive, not just the house will win. Businesses that play their cards right stand a chance at hitting the jackpot.