Massachusetts on Cusp of Joining the Ranks of Gaming States

plainridgeAfter a long, hard-fought battle for expanded gaming in the Bay State, we are now just a week away from Massachusetts’ first brick & mortar casino opening its doors.

That honor won’t be held by Wynn’s Everett project or MGM’s Springfield casino, instead it will go to Plainridge Park Casino, a slot parlor located at the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, Massachusetts. The property will be operated by Penn National Gaming.

Plainridge Park Casino is slated to open on June 24, 2015. The property will continue to operate its harness racing track, while adding 1,200 slot, video poker, and video blackjack machines, as well as several amenities including two restaurants (one of which is Massachusetts football legend Doug Flutie’s first restaurant, Flutie’s Sports Pub) a three-venue food court, and a bar/lounge area.

Plainridge will be first, but the casino projects in Everett and Springfield are waiting in the wings (the goal is to have these projects open their doors by 2017), as is a third potential casino license yet to be awarded in southeastern Massachusetts.

So while Massachusetts may be late to the gambling party, it’s about to begin its transformation from a non-gaming state to perhaps one of the nation’s most comprehensive when it comes to gambling options, particularly if the state can muster the votes to pass online gaming expansion in the coming years.

A long time in the making

Massachusetts resisted legalizing gambling in the state for many years, content with the revenue generated from its lottery sales while casino dollars poured over the borders into Rhode Island and Connecticut.

The amount of revenue leaving the state wasn’t lost on some, and the clarion call for Massachusetts based casinos was finally answered in 2011, when the state passed a bill that would allow up to three resort casinos and a single slot parlor to be erected – a similar measure in 2010 was vetoed by Governor Deval Patrick.

Casino referendum stalled and nearly derailed gaming

it will be four years between the bill’s passage and Plainridge Casino opening its doors, and likely at least six years from the bill’s passage to the destination casinos opening for business. A very long time considering how fast construction projects generally take.

But casinos are a different animal. The state needed to create a gaming commission and draft regulations, there is also the long and invasive licensing processes, and of course, the usual and unusual delays and setbacks.

The unusual setbacks in Massachusetts manifested themselves in the form of anti-casino groups.

During the licensing application process several grassroots efforts formed trying to prevent casinos from coming to their towns.

Attempts at bringing a casino to Foxborough (opposite Patriots Place, a massive shopping and entertainment complex alongside the home stadium of the New England Patriots) and Milford were easily voted down thanks to these groups, by a two-to-one margin in Milford.

In the end it was the Boston suburb Everett, and the city of Springfield in Western Massachusetts that ok’ed casinos.

With the casino licenses handed out, the anti-gambling grassroots groups next turned against the law itself. A petition to have a repeal of the 2011 casino expansion law placed on the 2014 ballot. The effort worked, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court voted to allow the repeal to be placed on the ballot.

Fortunately, Bay State voters rejected the repeal effort, preventing the loss of millions of dollars in investments at Plainridge Park, as well as in Everett and Springfield.

And on June 24th, when Plainridge Park opens its doors, the state will start to reap the rewards of this hard-fought victory.

Massachusetts will finally have its own casinos.

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