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Metro

Deadline near, state gaming panel seats unfilled

Pay level may be narrowing candidate field

A number of potential candidates have bowed out of contention for a position on the state’s new gambling commission, leaving four of the five spots still open less than a month before the deadline for making the appointments.

Some candidates for a seat on the powerful Massachusetts Gaming Commission have been put off by what they see as relatively low pay - $112,500 a year - for a high-profile job that is expected to receive intense public scrutiny. Members will pick the winning proposals for up to three gambling resorts and one slot parlor and write the regulations governing them.

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“The compensation has been a deterrent for some people,’’ acknowledged state Treasurer Steven Grossman, who, under the new casino law, must appoint one commission member with experience in corporate finance and securities, often a lucrative profession. “A number of people took themselves out of consideration for the job that I’m responsible for filling because of the salary.’’

The post’s $112,500 salary is a healthy one for public servants, but less than what many experienced professionals can earn at the top of their fields. The board’s chairman, Stephen P. Crosby, appointed by Governor Deval Patrick in December, will earn $150,000.

The job of gaming commissioner “is an exciting challenge, but the intensity of the scrutiny and the level of responsibility are huge,’’ said Crosby, most recently dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a veteran of the fishbowl environment of Bay State politics. “There are not a lot of people who are comfortable with that level of scrutiny and it’s not very much money for a lot of people, particularly for the responsibility.’’

Attorney General Martha Coakley will also appoint one commissioner; her choice, under the law, must have experience in criminal investigations and law enforcement. Patrick, Coakley, and Grossman will jointly fill the final two slots. One of the joint appointments must have experience in “legal and policy issues related to gaming.’’ The other may have casino management experience, but it is not required. The deadline for appointments is March 21.

The slow pace to fill the appointments will leave the gambling commission less time to hire staff and write its regulations ahead of other deadlines coming this year in the casino approval process.

But the pressure to get the choices right is also enormous. The consequence of a bad pick could be catastrophic to the appointing politician’s legacy and to the state, given the commission’s tremendous power to shape the casino industry.

“The quality of the individual whom I choose reflects on me and that person’s performance in their job has got to be first-rate,’’ said Grossman. He is, he said, happy with his finalists.

Scandals elsewhere have tainted casino development. In Pennsylvania, for example, a grand jury report last year alleged extensive corruption. Given the poor record of some other states, Crosby has joked that if Massachusetts can license casinos fairly and get them open without anybody being indicted, that alone would be a home run.

The casino law, which Patrick signed last November, bars convicted felons from serving on the gambling commission and requires a background check on “the financial stability, integrity, and responsibility’’ of the people chosen to sit on the panel.

The scrutiny of potential commissioners begins early: An 11-page application form, available for download on the state treasurer’s Web page, for example, contains 70 questions for potential applicants, such as: “Please identify, with particularity, every entity and security in which you or an immediate family member has an interest, financial or otherwise.’’ Candidates must also describe any legal proceedings in which they have participated, their business holdings, and name creditors to whom they owe more than $1,000.

To help with his search, Grossman enlisted the help of five experienced business people, he said. That group reached out to colleagues in the financial services and consulting professions to hunt for names of potential candidates. “They probably had close to 50 names suggested to them,’’ said Grossman. “Not that many candidates came forward because, for one reason or another, people found it wasn’t the right position for them.’’

Grossman’s team interviewed about a dozen people and decided on three finalists. Grossman will personally interview those three in the next one to two weeks, he said. He is keeping the names of the finalists private.

“At the end of the day, do I feel I have a top-flight group of finalists chosen from a top group of semifinalists? I do,’’ said Grossman. “Having looked at their résumés, I think we’ll be well-served.’’

Coakley has also found salary an issue in finding potential candidates, according to sources familiar with the search. The attorney general would not say if she has selected finalists or describe where she is in the process. In a statement, Coakley said only that “excellent candidates’’ had applied and that she expected to choose someone highly qualified.

The state in January hired an executive search firm, for $56,000, to find candidates for the two joint appointments to the commission.

While he waits to meet some fellow commissioners, Crosby has been working to lay groundwork for a fast start, he said. The governor’s office retained two contractors to help Crosby set up. One is overseeing logistics, such as finding office space and arranging for telephones and computers; the other, communications consultant Karen Schwartzman, is handling media relations.

Crosby also has begun collecting reference material, such as economic analyses on casino gambling, and budgets and organizational charts from other gambling commissions around the country. He has sought out regulators in other states, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, “partly to just get introduced because these are now our peers,’’ as well as to “talk about their ideas, what is important, and what mistakes not to make,’’ he said.

“This is a hard line to walk,’’ said Crosby. “We want, on the one hand, to get things ready to go and get moving as fast as we can, but I don’t want to get out in front of the commission. There’s a limit to what we can do until there’s a commission ready.’’

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.

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