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Casino gaming on verge of embarrassment

Date: 11/13/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

I’m not a gambling man. I think the most I’ve ever fed into a slot machine – I’m hopelessly intimidated by table games – is $10. But I’m willing to bet the casino outcome many people are hoping for won’t happen.

If you’re in the corner of MGM’s Springfield project and you’re hoping this is the shot in the arm the city needs, don’t count on it. The fact the Massachusetts Gaming Commission didn’t find Caesar’s Entertainment a suitable company to do business in the Bay State is pretty ominous for MGM.

Even if a recount throws several votes onto the plus side, the Palmer project will not be deemed to have passed the criteria set by the state casino legislation. And if MGM fails, Western Massachusetts will be without a license.

Apparently someone will then press the reset button. Do you think many municipalities will have the stomach for that? Chicopee is out as Mayor-elect Richard Kos has come out against casinos. Holyoke is out because Mayor Alex Morse has affirmed his anti-casino position. West Springfield? No.

Which town will step up to the plate and which casino developer will want to be here?

Inside the gaming industry in Las Vegas, Massachusetts is not being assessed very positively, at least according to Howard Stutz, who wrote a weekly gaming column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Stutz wrote on Nov. 3, “Two years ago, Massachusetts was considered a potentially lucrative gaming opportunity. The past two weeks, however, have called into question the viability of the Bay State’s incubating casino market.

“Massachusetts is moving ahead with a single Las Vegas-style casino in each of three geographically separate regions: Boston, the southeast corridor and the western half of the state.

“But it might become nothing more a second-rate gaming jurisdiction.

“Rather than creating resort destinations, the state’s casino industry could be viewed as just a deterrent to Connecticut, keeping Massachusetts gamblers and gaming tax revenue in house, instead of across the border in Indian casinos.

“Initially, gaming observers thought Massachusetts’ licensing process was moving too slow.

“Now, it seems totally out of whack,” he continued.

So if there were a second round, what kind of casino would we get? A quickie building along the highway with the word “Slots” in big letters?

Well, the rules seem to shifting in classic Massachusetts’ political fashion. The vote to allow a casino at Suffolk Downs to move forward in East Boston and Revere proved complicated. Revere voted yes and East Boston voted no. That should have killed this proposal, but maybe not. In an interview with the Boston Herald MGC Chair Stephen Crosby said, “If they want to somehow try to re-jigger their proposal and get it in under the land use vote that they had in Revere, they’re welcome to try, and we would take a look at it when they do.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt! Godfrey Daniel! Shut the front door and other family friendly euphemisms for obscenity.

So, would this do-over apply to other communities or just Boston?

Considering the number of states with casinos, I thought this process would be pretty routine: take the best practices of other states, apply them here and get these projects either approved or buried.

Instead, we have had a seemingly glacial approach that has resulted in the biggest economic development tease to our region to be seen in years. There is just so long someone can toss out prospective job statistics before people lose interest and lose faith.

Since other communities have closed the doors on casinos, Springfield is standing pretty much alone. It’s clear, though, we need a Plan B in the City of Homes. We need to be working on other projects. Yes, I’m sure the economic development folks in the city are doing just that, because we need every single job and every single business we can attract to the city and to the region.

I’ll finish this rant, with how Stutz finished his column: “Massachusetts gaming was once a vibrant gaming idea. Now, it’s on the verge of becoming an embarrassment.”

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.