LAS VEGAS — In the six months the full Massachusetts Gaming Commission has been at work, members have received “not one single phone call” from a lawmaker or elected official attempting to lobby or pressure the panel on any issue, the commission’s chairman, Stephen Crosby, said Tuesday at a gambling industry conference.
Safeguards in the 2011 state casino law intended to protect the board from outside pressures are working. “We are very insulated by way of legislation from political interference,” he said.
Crosby spoke on a panel at the Global Gaming Expo, at the Sands Expo & Convention Center on the iconic Las Vegas Strip. The annual event is one of the largest conventions of the casino industry.
Projecting independence from political influence is critical for the five-member state commission, which is eager to promote competition among casino companies, especially in the Greater Boston region where Suffolk Downs, in East Boston, is currently the only applicant for a gambling license. The commission has run up against a persistent belief within the casino industry that Suffolk Downs, in partnership with Caesars Entertainment, has a lock on a casino license because of local political support and connections.
Crosby credited two aspects of the state casino law with shielding the panel from influence.
As chairman, he was appointed to a seven-year term, which means his tenure could outlast the current gubernatorial administration as well as the next one. Also, the commission’s operation is being financed with a $15 million state loan, freeing it from dependence on state lawmakers.
“Theoretically, we don’t have to worry about money,” he said.
The loan will eventually be repaid from casino licensing fees, which will be at least $85 million for each casino resort.
The commission has also set up its own rules to guard against outside influence — or the perception of it, he said.
“We never talk to any politician or any interested party on our own,” Crosby said of the five commissioners. “We always meet with at least two with us.”
Much of Crosby’s conference appearance — on a panel covering emerging casino markets — recounted the state’s long debate before legalizing casino gambling and outlined the state’s casino law particulars. The commission has the power to issue up to three resort-style casino licenses and one slot parlor license. It is expected to issue the first license in late 2013 or early 2014.
Crosby also discussed the daily difficulties presented by the Massachusetts open meeting law, a funny situation that restricts how the commissioners may interact within their own office, he said.
“We operate very much on consensus, which is difficult because we operate under an open meeting law that was not intended to deal with five full-time commissioners in a start-up mode, with no staff, creating a new institution from scratch,” said Crosby.
No more than two members can discuss commission business together, except at public meetings posted in advance. The law “probably was not intended to keep us from getting together to talk about what color carpeting we want,” said Crosby. “But if we do that we would be in violation of the open meeting law.
“It’s an absurd and very difficult and sometimes very corrosive environment in which to operate. No more than two of us can get together to talk about anything. So we’ve had to work hard on how we operate,” he said.
Crosby is attending the conference with fellow commissions Gayle Cameron and Enrique Zuniga.