Gaming industry regulators in Massachusetts have announced a revised timetable for issuing resort casino licenses. Delays are costing the state and municipal governments gaming revenue that budget writers had counted on receiving by now.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission issued a revised schedule this week for the licensing of resort casinos. The commission expects to announce on June 13th the awarding of the lone casino license in western Massachusetts, where MGM Springfield is the only applicant. The licensing award in greater Boston, where Wynn Resorts and Mohegan Sun are competing, will not occur before August 29th.
There is no target date for the commercial casino license authorized in southeastern Massachusetts because the state is allowing a head start to a development proposed by the Wampanoag Indian Tribe.
When the state gaming law was enacted in 2011, it was expected the casino licenses would be issued by the end of 2013.
The decision on the casino license for greater Boston – Region A, as it is designated by the commission – has been held up recently by disputes over what the casinos should pay surrounding communities to mitigate problems, and whether Boston should be designated a host community for the casinos planned in Revere and Everett.
Further complicating matters is the decision two weeks ago by gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby to remove himself from the Region A licensing decision over allegations of bias.
" I am going to gone on and do the rest of the work of the commission. The other four commissioners can handle the Region A work fine and I think that is the best way to go," said Crosby.
Even though MGM has been the only license applicant in western Massachusetts since last November when competitors were knocked out in local referendums, the gaming commission has insisted on an exhaustive review of the proposed Springfield casino. That review is expected to culminate in a series of commission meetings in the days leading up to June 13.
" There are some process steps, there are no impediments that I see," said Crosby.
A cloud hanging over the licensing process is the potential statewide ballot question that could negate the licenses if the State Supreme Judicial Court allows the referendum on the November ballot and voters approve it.
Crosby indicated the gaming commission does not intend to wait for that issue to be resolved.
"We will make a decision, and if we decide to award it ( a casino license) we will offer the award to MGM and it will be up to MGM to decide if they want to accept it or not."
MGM Springfield President Mike Mathis has said the company wants to delay the formal licensing award until the fate of the casino repeal referendum is decided, either by the court or the voters.
Upon acceptance of the casino license from the state MGM would be obligated to pay out an estimated $200 million. That includes payments to Springfield and eight communities surrounding the city.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno could not include payments from MGM in his proposed city budget because the casino license has not been formally awarded.
Sarno, a strong supporter of the casino project, said he does not blame MGM for the delay.
" They're in business too. When you are asked to come across with $200 million and somebody might pull the carpet from underneath you."
State officials included $170 million from casino licensing fees in the current state budget assuming the fees would be paid by the end of the fiscal year on June 30th. The licensing delay should not cause a budget gap because the Patrick Administration reported this week that tax collections are running $524 million over estimates and spending is lower than projected.