Speaking on the eve of the opening of the first casino in Massachusetts, state Gaming Commission chairman Stephen P. Crosby on Tuesday morning highlighted his agency’s role in bringing what he said would be as much as $400 million a year to the state in new tax revenue while creating 10,000 new jobs.
Crosby, addressing the Boston Chamber of Commerce on the day before the scheduled opening of Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, said there are legitimate concerns that casinos increase debilitating gambling addiction and crime.
But now that casinos have been widely approved by voters, the gambling commission is moving swiftly to maximize their benefits while minimizing the harm, he said.
Massachusetts is hardly an innocent when it comes to gambling: Its residents annually spend $5 billion on the state lottery, $10 billion in casinos in Connecticut and elsewhere, and $5 billion on online gambling sites, horse racing, bingo, and illegal wagering, he said.
“We are already heavy gamblers in Massachusetts,” he said. “Opening casinos in Massachusetts will not be a change in order of magnitude in gambling.”
By adding up to four casinos, Massachusetts will probably increase money spent on gambling by $6 billion to $8 billion a year, he said, about a 35 percent increase.
Crosby said there probably will be an increase in compulsive gambling, but not to the extent that might have been expected if many state residents were not already robust gamblers at places like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. For years, while Massachusetts went without casinos, the state in effect exported tax revenue dollars to Connecticut while importing the social ills that come with gambling, he said.
“That is going to change, beginning tomorrow” when Massachusetts gamblers begin to stay in their home state to gamble, Crosby said. “We will hurt the Connecticut casinos badly.”
Crosby said the state is launching several first-of-their-kind approaches to curb compulsive gambling, including having people available at casinos to counsel anyone on problem gambling issues.
Crosby, who until last week was the subject of a State Ethics Commission conflict-of-interest inquiry, made several indirect references to accusations against him in “the many twists and turns” in the commission’s years-old process of evaluating competing proposals for the limited number of casino licenses.
“Some of the challenges to the commission have been made in good faith, some sour grapes,” he said.
In a lawsuit filed on behalf of the city, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has called for Crosby’s removal from the commission and a restart of the licensing process for a Greater Boston casino. The lawsuit portrays the Gaming Commission as having engaged in a pattern of making exceptions to the state casino law to benefit the Everett casino proposed by Wynn Resorts.
Walsh had reached an agreement with a competing casino proposal for Suffolk Downs in Revere that would have brought at least $18 million a year to Boston.
Crosby pointed out in his talk to about 75 chamber members that the commission committed to enough flexibility in the process to keep potential casino developers competing against one another to bring about the best possible results for the state. That included “going out of our way to keep Suffolk Downs in the process” after East Boston voters rejected a casino there, even though Crosby is now accused of unfairly favoring Wynn.
Crosby also noted that, based on gambling commission projections, the state will miss out on as much as $18 million for every month of delay in opening the Wynn casino.
The Ethics Commission last week dropped its inquiry.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the new tax revenue expected from casino gambling in Massachusetts. Stephen Crosby said it would bring in as much as $400 million a year.