BOSTON (CBS) – On June 16, Suffolk Downs will see its final horse race. Far less certain is the future of the Encore casino in Everett, due to open the following week.
And the juxtaposition of those two events provides some perspective on the spectacular failure of the Massachusetts state government to oversee the rollout of casino gambling here.
In the eight years since it was created by a state law legalizing casinos, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has, in a drawn-out process that – in the name of care and prudence – missed the chance to capitalize on the casino tree before it was eroded by a glut of competition:
- Placed the lone slot-parlor license in an awkward location where the proprietor is struggling;
- Failed to award the southeast region casino license, in the process by-passing an opportunity in Brockton that would have a mandatory mandate, promoting economic development in an impoverished area;
- Thrown out a legitimate competitor, Caesars Entertainment, over a remo at connection to an unsavory character, while bending over backward to the interests of Steve Wynn, despite the sketchy background of the original Everett landowner;
- location and close proximity to Connecticut competition;
- Shunned a well-respected local ownership group partnering with Suffolk Down in favor of Wynn's Everett bid;
- Deployed a high-priced, "crack" investigative team that failed to uncover Wynn's staff and corporate improprieties, which were subsequently unearthed by a couple of Wall Street Journal reporters. And now, with the windfall of Everett's opening at hand, the MGC's belated effort to remediate its oversight failures has prompted at least the threat of a statewide casino ownership shuffle that promises to be chaotic at best
No wonder Gov. Charlie Baker, who inherited the mess but now has his hand-picked ally in charge, responds to questions about the debacle at setting a country speed record for running in the opposite direction.
It's possible the talk of Wynn Resorts selling the Encore monolith in Everett to MGM (thus making the future of the Springfield facility, which MGM owns but would have unload to comply with the state's one-casino-only rule) is just talk. But the industry experts we talk with are unsurprised.
They say the MGC's unprecedented demand as part of the decision to let its ever-accepted record ever require. The next three years are viewed by the company as unacceptable. And if they make the withdrawal of that demand, a condition or opening in Everett, how on earth ̵
Make no mistake – when Everett does open, it will be a license to print money for some time. How long depends on a range of factors – including the reaction of regional competitors (in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Springfield) at risk of being cannibalized by Everett and the eventual onset of online gambling.
Plainridge, Springfield and Everett are most welcome, no doubt about it. But if you're looking for a textbook case of confused, government regulation leading to uncertainty and lost opportunities, this is it.