When Plainridge Park opened the casino era in Massachusetts last month, it was considered a first, modest step on the road to a multibillion-dollar industry.
As originally envisioned, the next great leap was supposed to come in 2016 with the openings of three grand resort casinos, bringing thousands of jobs and a new stream of state revenue.
But today, plans for the resort casinos have stalled. Even the best-case scenario would be for two of them to open no earlier than 2018, while the fate of the third remains in limbo.
“You could say the state is losing $1 billion in revenue because of the delay from 2016 to 2018,” said Clyde W. Barrow, a University of Texas professor who has long studied the New England casino market.
“The debate over whether to legalize casinos went on for over a decade in Massachusetts, and now it’s starting to look like the implementation period is going to be just as long,” he said.
Governor Charlie Baker, through a spokesman, said the administration is not using projected casino revenue to balance its current budget or to develop the outlines of future budgets.
“The governor is more concerned with getting the casinos done the right way, not the quick way,” said Tim Buckley, a spokesman for Baker.
Stephen P. Crosby, the state Gaming Commission chairman, has emphasized in past statements that he wants casinos up and running expeditiously, but that some matters are beyond the commission’s control.
After it became clear that the MGM Resorts casino in Springfield would be delayed because of nearby highway construction, Crosby said, “These things happen all the time. If there were no good reason for the delay, we would not let them do it.”
But in response to the city of Boston’s lawsuit against the commission over the planned Wynn Resorts casino in Everett, he has warned that every month of delay could cost the state as much as $18 million in revenue.
The $1.7 billion Wynn casino is the centerpiece of the state’s game plan to keep Massachusetts gamblers at home and also turn the tables on Rhode Island and Connecticut by luring some of their gambling dollars to what is promised to be the slickest, glitziest casino in New England.
But the Wynn proposal is hung up in court, facing an aggressive effort by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the cities of Revere and Somerville to derail it, contending it would create traffic jams.
Last week, Attorney General Maura Healey effectively delayed Wynn’s project, lending the prestige of her office — and of her political standing as the state’s highest-ranking Democrat — in calling for an independent and possibly time-consuming new traffic study.
While Healey has no legal jurisdiction to halt the Everett casino, Boston, Revere, and Somerville have recently filed thousands of pages of documents in court to try to persuade a judge to revoke the casino license, which the state awarded last year to Wynn. The next scheduled court hearing on the case is Sept. 22.
In Springfield, the MGM Resort casino proposal does not face the kind of legal and political challenges that confront Wynn, but it has hit a major bump in the road. Last month, MGM asked the Gaming Commission for permission to push back its target date for opening by one year because of extensive roadwork planned by the state for Interstate 91, which cuts through the city.
The delay, which has yet to be approved by the Gaming Commission, comes at an inopportune time, given the state’s goal of attracting gamblers from Connecticut. That state recently passed a law allowing the owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to explore opening a jointly-run casino on the state border with Massachusetts, a law plainly intended to undercut MGM’s plans in Springfield.
And in Southeastern Massachusetts, where the third casino was intended to siphon players from Twin River in Rhode Island, the Gaming Commission has yet to approve any project and has shown only conditional interest in the proposals put forth by developers in Brockton and New Bedford.
Crosby has repeatedly said the commission could decide to award no license at all for that region, if it deems competition from nearby facilities — existing or planned — too stiff.
Complicating the picture in Southeastern Massachusetts are the casino aspirations of two federally-recognized Indian tribes.
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is seeking approval from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs for a planned casino in Taunton. When — and whether — that approval will come is a matter of wide speculation. The tribe’s application is subject to a complex body of federal law.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe also faces legal uncertainty. Last month, the tribe began renovations to its community center on Martha’s Vineyard in what one tribal leader said was the first step in converting the building into a casino. That plan is being challenged in court by the Town of Aquinnah.
By all indications, Plainridge Park Casino, the one gambling establishment that has opened, is off to a good start. But the vastly smaller venue, which has no hotel and is projected to generate only $100 million in tax revenue, represents only a tiny slice of the economic development expected at the three resort casinos.
The worst-case scenario for casinos in Massachusetts, Barrow said, would be the Gaming Commission deciding against licensing a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts, Wynn getting frustrated and pulling out in Everett, and MGM scaling back its proposal in Springfield in the face of new competition.
The more likely scenario, he said, is that “the state will muddle along, and we’ll look back someday and say, ‘What took so long?’ ”