State cuts tax projections for Plainridge Park casino
State officials have cut by nearly 40 percent the amount of tax revenue they expect Plainridge Park Casino to generate, the latest sign that the state's first casino is falling short of expectations.
Located off Interstate 95 near the Rhode Island border, Plainridge was supposed to stop the stream of Massachusetts gamblers headed for Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., just 11 miles away.
But budget revisions by officials in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island after Plainridge's gala opening on June 24 suggest that the slot parlor has not kept Massachusetts gamblers from heading across the border.
Budget analysts in Massachusetts at first projected Plainridge to generate $262 million annually in gambling revenue but slashed that estimate to $207 million in October and to $160 million last month, based on lower-than-expected sales during Plainridge's first few months of operation.
That will mean that instead of the $128 million in tax revenue officials projected before Plainridge opened, the state would receive $78 million.
At the same time, Rhode Island budget analysts, who had initially lowered their expectations because of the competition from Plainridge, last month added $35 million in overall projected slot machine revenue at Twin River.
"It's clear Twin River has blunted the impact of the opening of Plainridge," said Paul Grimaldi, a Rhode Island Department of Revenue spokesman. "Twin River is maintaining its attractiveness to gamblers. The early indications are positive for Rhode Island."
Stephen P. Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, on Monday agreed that revenues are not what the state had expected but said the advent of the casino era in Massachusetts is bringing a range of other benefits, such as jobs and economic development.
"Yes, tax revenues are less than what we expected, but so far Plainridge has produced more than $30 million in taxes that the Commonwealth would not have without Plainridge," he said.
To explain why Twin River has retained much of the market share, casino specialists point to some significant differences that separate the two venues, which are within a 25 minute-drive.
Twin River, with more than 4,000 slot machines, offers much more variety — a key attraction for some slot machine players — than Plainridge, which is licensed for only 1,250 slot machines, said Paul DeBole, an assistant professor of political science at Lasell College and a specialist on gambling regulation.
Twin River also includes a full range of table games, such as blackjack, poker, and craps, which may encourage "companion gambling," an industry term for couples who arrive together and then separate according to their preference for tables or slot machines, DeBole said.
Twin River won voter approval to add the table games, starting in 2013. Under the Massachusetts 2011 casino law, no table games are permitted at Plainridge.
Twin River allows smoking at about half of its slot machines, while smoking is forbidden inside Plainridge. Twin River allows gamblers age 18 and older, while Plainridge enforces an age-21-and-older restriction.
"Rhode Island officials have got to feel good about Twin River in head-to-head competition, at least so far," DeBole said.
When they settled on a location for the state's first casino, Massachusetts officials and Penn National executives said Plainville looked like a perfect spot to stem the flood of Massachusetts gamblers and their fistfuls of dollars to Twin River.
"We view our location as the last line of defense" for Massachusetts to keep its gamblers at home, one Penn National executive told the gambling commission.
Penn National spent $125 million on the facility in Plainville, about 35 miles southwest of Boston, much of it going to local contractors and suppliers. It currently supports a payroll of about 575 full-time employees.
But gambling revenue at Plainridge has fallen in every month since it opened, from about $18 million in July, its first full month of operation, to about $13 million in October. And while Penn National officials say they expected a dropoff in revenue after their grand opening in June, they, too, have recently agreed revenue is less than they expected.
A Plainridge executive said there is plenty of time to improve revenues.
"Plainridge Park Casino, and the gaming market here in the Commonwealth, is in the earliest phases of its development," Lance George, Plainridge general manager, said in a statement released Monday. "It is important to be disciplined in drawing clear conclusions until the Massachusetts market has more fully matured."
Ultimately, gamblers will choose the facility that is better run, according to a recent report by Christiansen Capital Advisors., a consulting firm hired by the state of Rhode Island to analyze the possible impact of Plainridge.
"These two sites, only 11 miles apart, will aggressively compete for gamblers," according to the report.