, Salem, MA


November 23, 2012

Mass. casino process slow, deliberate

BOSTON — When Gov. Deval Patrick ended years of contentious debate over expanded gambling by signing a bill authorizing up to three resort-style casinos and a slots parlor, he warned against expecting any quick economic windfall.

One year later, such caution appears warranted. While there has been some progress in the 12 months the law has been in effect, there also have been some setbacks.

Several casino proposals have been offered, while other trial balloons have been shot down. A new state gaming commission with broad oversight of the law has held dozens of meetings and won praise for transparency, but it has yet to appoint an executive director or finish writing key regulations. Western Massachusetts — and Springfield in particular — has been a hotbed of casino interest, but competition has been slow to take shape in other parts of the state. Plans for a tribal casino envisioned under the law are in limbo.

The bottom line is that casino licenses are unlikely to be awarded until early 2014, and it may well be 2017 before gamblers are actually placing bets in sparkling new resorts. For some, that’s too long to wait for the estimated $400 million in annual state revenue and thousands of temporary and permanent jobs the casino industry could bring.

“We would like to see it move much more quickly,” said Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trade Council, which represents unionized workers in construction trades. “There are a lot of jobs at stake.”

Callahan is among those urging the commission to speed up the licensing process, perhaps by borrowing from the best practices in nearly two dozen other states that already have commercial gambling facilities. The council has cited an American Gaming Association survey showing that nearly all of those states moved from legalization to opening of casinos in less time than is projected in Massachusetts.

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