Before the gaming commission approves an application to build a resort casino at a dilapidated racetrack in Brockton, a vote that could come as soon as Thursday, it should insist on improvements. At minimum, commissioners should require the casino applicant, Rush Street Gaming, to address the shortcomings identified by chairman Stephen Crosby at the commission’s hearing on Wednesday.
Rush Street’s Massachusetts affiliate has offered to spend just above the bare minimum of $500 million in capital investment required by state law: $500.4 million, according to the commission’s calculations. Even reaching that number required the commission to make some generous assumptions about how Rush Street would spend their contingency money and a favorable interpretation of what counted as a qualifying capital expense.
And yet, there are no competing applications for the panel to pick instead: The state’s requirements were stiff enough that nobody else even applied for the state casino license in the region, which encompasses the southeastern portion of the Commonwealth. A once-promising plan in New Bedford collapsed last year.
The absence of competitors might seem to deprive the commission of leverage. But they’re not required to grant a license at all.
That’s not to say that Rush Street has nothing going for it. The company has met all of the requirements spelled out in the law. It would create jobs and produce tax revenues, the legislation’s stated goals. The commission’s own analysis shows the developer has a plausible business plan. The company narrowly won the support of the city’s voters last year for its plan at the Brockton Fairgrounds. There are no obvious, disqualifying red flags.
Still, as Crosby noted, the plan falls short in key respects. It missed a chance to restore a historic structure at the Fairgrounds; fixing it could be a condition of getting a license. And although Brockton is a historic city with a famous boxing heritage, it doesn’t mark or celebrate that history.
There’s precedent for the commission demanding changes from a licensee. As it awarded a license to the Wynn casino in Everett, for instance, commissioners insisted that the developer redo its Albert Speer-meets-Donald Trump architectural design. That demand yielded a significantly better blueprint at the Wynn site.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the plan this week, and also have to weigh numerous other factors, some of which are completely outside their control. There’s a possibility that a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal casino could open in Taunton, which the state can only tax if there’s no commercial competitor in the region. Commissioners ultimately will have to make a judgement call on whether they’re comfortable with the risk of losing tax revenues from the tribe, a chance the state will be taking if they license the Brockton plan.
On the other hand, the tribal casino faces numerous obstacles, and there’s a chance it’ll never open at all — in which case, failing to license the Brockton casino now would deprive the state of tax revenues and arguably ignore the wishes of voters who decided in 2014 to uphold the casino law. Public officials in Brockton are also lobbying hard for the casino, which they view as a shot in the arm for a city that has struggled economically.
Opponents of casino gambling might hope the commission declines to award the final casino license, but that ship seems to have sailed. For better or worse, the 2011 law is here for good, warts and all, and it envisioned a third casino.
Still, a promise embedded in that law was that the state would only license casinos with pizzazz. Rush Street shouldn’t be denied just because of the unknowable possibility of a Mashpee Wampanoag casino someday. But just because Rush Street is the only commercial applicant left standing in the region doesn’t mean they should be held to a lower standard, either.