The long-awaited Massachusetts casino sweepstakes officially begins next week, with the first public meeting of the regulatory board that will chose which casino proposals win state licenses.
The five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission gets to work Tuesday, more than four months after legislation legalized Las Vegas-style casino gambling in the Bay State.
The commission - appointed by the governor, attorney general and state treasurer - was slow to form, with the final members named in late March. It has also laid out a conservative timetable for the awarding of casino development rights: The commission predicts it will be ready in 2013 to solicit bids for casinos. Decisions could follow in 6 to 12 months, meaning that it could be 2015 before licenses are awarded.
For public officials desperate for the revenue and jobs they expect casinos to generate, the timetable seems unacceptably long.
“I would like to see a faster pace and more of a sense of urgency,’’ Springfield’s mayor, Domenic J. Sarno, said in a recent interview. “The Gaming Commission needs to do things right, but we’ve got to get some shovels in the ground. The process needs to move.’’
The gambling commission’s chairman, Stephen Crosby, has warned that the commission should resist the temptation to move too quickly and risk mistakes. He has said the board must thoughtfully tackle the complicated task of writing the criteria by which casino projects will be judged in the competition for state licenses.
“I can understand people’s impatience,’’ Crosby said. “This issue has been debated for years.’’
But the commission is brand new, he said, “and we’ve learned from other jurisdictions that this is a situation where haste most certainly can make waste.’’
State law authorizes the commission to award licenses for up to one gambling resort in each of three regions of the state, plus one slot machines parlor that could be built in any region. The total capital investment from the projects could exceed $3 billion. Some of the nation’s largest casino companies have been jockeying for position, including Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, and MGM.
The process begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday, when the commission gathers at the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus Center. The meeting will be streamed live on the commission’s website, www.mass.gov/gaming. The public may attend the board’s inaugural meeting, but the commission has announced it will not take questions Tuesday.
The board’s initial agenda is packed with housekeeping items to get the board running, beginning with the swearing in of the five commissioners:
■Crosby, on leave as dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston.
■Gayle Cameron, a retired New Jersey State Police lieutenant colonel.
■James McHugh, a retired justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
■Enrique Zuniga, former executive director of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust.
■Bruce Stebbins, former business development administrator for the City of Springfield.
Once they are seated, commissioners will discuss hiring lawyers and specialists on the gambling industry, as well as an acting executive director, a communications specialist, chief of staff, and other positions.