A bad bet for Massachusetts: More casino gambling
Massachusetts: Don’t become the Catskills by signing off on one too many gleaming new casinos.
Oversaturation is the watchword now, as the barely year-old, billion-dollar Resorts World Catskills in Monticello, N.Y., struggles, along with three other upstate New York casinos that opened or expanded within the past two-and-half years.
But this could be us if a glut of bills on Beacon Hill moves forward to expand casino gambling in the Commonwealth.
The riskiest measure is a Senate bill that would create a so-called Region D to allow a resort-style casino in Worcester County. The original 2011 gambling law called for licenses to be divided up by regions: A (Greater Boston), B (Springfield), and C (Southeastern Massachusetts). Worcester currently falls inside Region A.
So far the state gaming commission has awarded two of the three resort casino licenses: Region A to Encore Boston Harbor in Everett and Region B to MGM in Springfield.
There is so much concern about too much gambling in New England — with plans in Connecticut to expand its casinos and Rhode Island having already expanded theirs — that some wonder if Massachusetts really needs to award a Region C license that would usher in even more blackjack and slot machines.
Besides, not one but two Native American tribes want to open a casino in the southeastern part of the Commonwealth, and neither would need state approval if they manage to navigate a thicket of federal obstacles.
Which makes carving out a Region D license one of the worst bets Beacon Hill could make this session.
Another bad idea: a pair of bills in the House and Senate that seek to boost the chances that the state’s lone slots-only licensee can continue to thrive by adding up to 30 live table games, such as blackjack and craps, as well as 250 slot machines for a total of 1,500.
If these measures were to pass — modest as they may seem — the lucky beneficiary would be Plainridge Park Casino, holder of the state’s slots parlor license. Officials from Plainville, where the casino is located, as well as neighboring towns support such an expansion.
Why? To keep up with Rhode Island competitors that have also added live table games. By many accounts, Plainridge has been a model gaming operation since it opened in 2015, creating more than 450 jobs and generating close to $300 million in tax revenue. A University of Massachusetts Amherst report in December found no significant change in crime, traffic, gambling addiction, or related social ills related to the slots parlor.
Still, if Plainridge were to add table games it would essentially have obtained a resort casino license at a slots-only price. Resort casino license applicants must commit to a minimum of a $500 million capital investment, while slots parlor applicants are only required to spend a minimum of $125 million.
While Plainridge’s expansion feels minor, it wouldn’t be fair to the other companies that have been awarded resort licenses or will vie for one in the future. And like the misguided Region D idea, it would add more casino gambling in Massachusetts just as the alarms over market oversaturation are getting louder.