By Devin O’Connor
Massachusetts lawmakers have added an amendment to an economic development bill that would require the state Gaming Commission to submit to the legislature a report on the Region C casino license by October 1.
The 2011 Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act in authorized three Category 1, full-scale integrated resort casinos. The $2.4 billion Encore Boston Harbor is the Region A venue, and the $960 million MGM Springfield Region B. Plainridge Park is the lone slots-only venue, which was also authorized through the 2011 law.
The Region C-Category 1 license remains unresolved, which consists of the counties of Bristol, Plymouth, Nantucket, Dukes, and Barnstable.
There are gaming saturation concerns in relation to issuing the third Category 1 casino permit. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues to fight to gain authorization to build a $1 billion Native American casino resort in Taunton, Massachusetts, and the southeast region of the Bay State is already close to commercial casinos in neighboring Rhode Island.
Bill H.4887 is “An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth.” The spending bill is tailored towards getting the state economy going again in wake of the coronavirus.
Lawmakers have tacked on numerous amendments to the legislative package, including gaming-related measures.
Rep. Carol Doherty (D-Taunton) was behind the Region C amendment introduction. In the version of H.4887 passed by the Massachusetts House and sent to the Senate, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) would be required to actively renew its consideration of the lone remaining gaming Category 1 license.
The MGC’s report is to include an evaluation of economic conditions within the region, the area’s ability to sustain such an establishment, an evaluation of a casino bidder’s ability to convince the state that such a venue would provide value to the counties, and be a profitable enterprise.
There is speculation that a casino in this region is not viable due to oversaturation of the market because the region is located in close proximity to Rhode Island, which has its own casinos, and because of the newly-opened Encore [Boston Harbor] casino. The uncertainty around the status of the tribal casino in Taunton adds to the complexity of a Region C license as well,” Doherty said in a statement.
Along with the Region C earmark, the economic recovery package includes an amendment that would legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks. Operations would be permitted both in-person and online.
When pressed by local reporters regarding whether the state legislature might remove the Gaming Commission’s authority in deciding the fate of the Region C license, Doherty was noncommittal.
“I imagine It will depend on the findings of the report. As it stands now, the MGC has the authority to grant the license. If the report findings suggest something other than that, we would follow the recommendations of the report,” she told the State House News Service.
In related MGC news, the commission this week approved allocating $200,000 to West Springfield, which applied for the money from the Community Mitigation Fund. The neighboring town to MGM Springfield says it has experienced an uptick in 9-1-1 calls since the casino opened in August of 2018.