Holding the line on casino expansion
Yes, Massachusetts can have too much of a good thing — especially if that “good thing” is casino gambling.
The latest numbers are in. The first week’s revenue figures from the new Encore Boston Harbor Casino are indeed the hoped-for blockbuster results — $16.8 million, of which $4.1 million will go directly into state coffers.
By contrast, MGM Springfield took in just shy of $20 million for the entire month of June, paying nearly $4.2 million in taxes, and the four-year-old slots parlor at Plainridge Park reported $13.5 million for the month — of which it had to contribute $6.6 million in taxes. (The slots-only parlor is taxed at a rate of 49 percent of gross gaming revenue, compared to 25 percent for full-scale casinos.)
But some Southeastern Massachusetts lawmakers are intent on changing the rules in the middle of this delicately balanced game. For them apparently, there can never be enough opportunities to part gamblers from their money. And so there’s a move afoot to allow the slots-only casino to add table games to their menu.
That’s a recipe for parochialism run amok.
A bill to allow Plainridge, for the first time, to host 30 table games like roulette or blackjack and an additional 250 slot machines (bringing the total to 1,500) got a hearing last week on Beacon Hill — the same day the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released the revenue numbers from Encore and its in-state competitors.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Plainridge. Encore is the brightest, shiniest new object on the casino frontier. Even MGM, which opened less than a year ago, is going to have some trouble keeping up on the glitz front, not to mention the revenue front. As the Globe reported, MGM’s first year revenues, which at best might top $300 million, are far from the $418 million it told state gaming officials it expected to realize in its first year of operations.
There is a lesson in that for Plainridge — the pleas of its most ardent supporters aside.
“You’re looking at a community which borders the state of Rhode Island, and just 10 miles away we have Twin River and about 26 miles away we have the Tiverton casino, and these casinos were put in place to directly compete with Plainridge,” state Representative Jeff Roy, Democrat of Frankin, told the Joint Committee on Economic Development. “Neither of them had the table games when Plainridge was given its slot license, but they now have those in place and they are directly competing for Massachusetts dollars.”
Well, no one ever guaranteed Plainridge a monopoly — even a regional one. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission hasn’t even dealt with the possibility of a full-scale casino for Southeastern Massachusetts, which would indeed be close competition — but one already permitted under the landmark 2011 casino gaming bill.
Besides, Plainridge had a more than three-year headstart in the game and at a relative bargain-basement cost (full-scale casinos had to pledge a minimum capital investment of $500 million, slots-only applicants a mere $125 million).
Plainridge, which announces to customers, “Welcome to Your Hometown Casino,” has developed a niche market that serves its region and its clientele. There is value and there is revenue in that.
From a state-wide perspective, more casinos — even more table games — don’t necessarily equal more revenue. Maximizing the public’s take and guarding against oversaturation is the real object here — not pandering to parochial politics.