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Stebbins outlines priorities for Gaming Commission

Date: 4/2/2012

April 2, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Bruce Stebbins' first day on the job as a member of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is April 2 and he sees his involvement in the process of establishing casino gambling in the Commonwealth as an opportunity for significant job growth.

He told Reminder Publications that casino gaming is "one of the biggest potential economic development opportunities to come along in a long time."

Stebbins, a former Springfield City Councilor, left his job as the business development administrator for Springfield on March 28. Previously, he had worked at the National Association of Manufacturers and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development and had served in the Administration of Gov. Bill Weld, and as associate director of political affairs in the White House under President George H.W. Bush.

Stebbins was named to the Commission on March 20 as one of the last two appointments, along with James F. McHugh, retired associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Stebbins said he had been "very happy" with his job development position with the city but was interested in the role of commissioner when he was contacted by a recruitment firm to consider applying for the position.

He explained his interview process included meetings with Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman.

Stebbins said those three officials were looking for someone with "an economic development track record and saw value in having a person from Western Massachusetts doing work for the Commission."

Patrick said, "With these last two appointments, the Gaming Commission is strong, complete and ready to get on with the business of creating jobs for Massachusetts. James McHugh and Bruce Stebbins are excellent additions and I look forward to the thoughtful discharge of the work the commission has before it."

The first open meeting of the Commission will be announced in several weeks, but in the meantime, Stebbins explained an office must be established and a support staff hired.

All costs of the Commission would be borne by the gaming industry itself and will not be paid by Massachusetts taxpayers.

One of the first organizational tasks for the Commission will be the establishment of its own rules of conduct, which will be "more stringent" than present state laws on conflict of interest, according to Stebbins.

According to information released by the governor's office, "under the legislation, the Commission would be required to set out the terms of the application for a gaming establishment license, and the bill sets out certain requirements for that application. These requirements include detailed descriptions of timelines, location and hiring practices, as well as plans to identify, evaluate and mitigate social, economic, cultural and public safety impacts on surrounding communities. The legislation also requires the Commission, as part of its review of gaming applicants, to identify which communities would be designated as the surrounding communities of a proposed gaming establishment and hold a public hearing on the application before taking any action on the application."

Besides the three licenses for casinos, the Commission will also determine a license for a slots parlor.

What is at stake is potentially a huge influx in revenue for the state. According to the legislation, the Commonwealth would receive 25 percent of the gross gaming revenues from each casino and 40 percent of the revenue from the slots parlor.

Stebbins estimated the Commission would be in a position to release a Request for Proposals to casino developers — the first step in issuing the three potential licenses in the Commonwealth — sometime within six to nine months.

"Overall, the goal is to be as transparent as possible," Stebbins said of the long process ahead of the Commission.

He emphasized the commissioners' intention is to perform "due diligence" at every level of the process.

"We want to get it done right the first time," Stebbins said.

He declined to say whether or not having a Springfield resident would either give the city an edge in the selection process or knock the city out of competition. He said instead he said his goal is to be "fair, honest and transparent."

Commission Chair Steve Crosby has indicated that he "has a strong interest in public input" and Stebbins believes that Commission meetings will be conducted around the state.

Stebbins promised to be "thorough and diligent in maximizing the job impact" of casinos.

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