Especially since Plainridge Racecourse helped usher Massachusetts into the world of casino gambling, it’s noteworthy that the track won’t be one of the beneficiaries. But Plainridge’s disqualification as a potential slots parlor operator shows that the state Gaming Commission is doing its job. Recently, the panel ruled that the track, whose politically savvy leaders played a big role shaping the 2011 casino law, was unfit to operate a slots parlor in Massachusetts. They cited evidence that Gary T. Piontkowski, the high-profile former track president who abruptly resigned in April, had taken about $1.4 million from the track’s cash room over several years.
The fact that the track allowed those withdrawals to occur, even as the business struggled to survive, raised profound concerns about its management practices. The commissioners unanimously ruled that the withdrawals suggested that the track’s leadership was incapable of exercising the kind of rigorous oversight that the state rightly demands from all casino and slots parlor operators.
The booting of an applicant, especially one with political connections, should bolster the public’s confidence in the new commission. Members might not have intended to make an example of Plainridge, but now that they have, other gambling applicants will have to take notice. The muscle-flexing should also embolden the commission to make more demands of some applicants, especially Suffolk Downs, which has yet to clarify who will actually own the casino that is proposed there, which should be a prerequisite before the commission allows the application to proceed.
Piontkowski was a major force in pushing the Legislature to include a slots parlor in the gambling legislation. Suffolk Downs was a major force behind the bill as well. The fact that Plainridge has now been disqualified because of Piontkowski’s alleged misdeeds, and that Suffolk Downs is struggling to meet the requirements of legislation that it strongly favored, reflects well on the Gaming Commission but poorly on Beacon Hill. For in crafting the casino law, lawmakers deferred to interests that, so far, have failed to stand up to the kind of scrutiny that an expanded gambling industry clearly requires.