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Leaf Home arrow The News arrow North East News arrow Gaming board picks first winner: Plainville
Gaming board picks first winner: Plainville
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 01 March 2014
Gaming board picks first winner: Plainville
By George Brennan
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February 28, 2014

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded the state's first and only slots license to the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, just minutes from the Rhode Island border.

The license, which will go to Penn National Gaming, is within 25 miles of the casino proposed by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in East Taunton. But, as outlined in the compact with Gov. Deval Patrick, the tribe will not get any financial breaks for competing with Plainridge. The slots parlor will be in Region B, while the tribe is trying to build in Region C. If the facilities were in the same region, the tribe could pay a lower percentage of its gaming revenue to the state.

The vote for Plainridge was 3-2 with commission Chairman Stephen Crosby and commissioner James McHugh, the two dissenting votes, favoring a Leominster site.

The license award comes two years and three months after the state legalized casinos and nearly two years after the commission began the process of regulating and licensing gambling in the Bay State. Penn National officials have until this morning to accept a laundry list of conditions that goes along with the license award. If the company agrees, the commission will take one final vote this morning.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell declined to comment through Paula Gates, a representative of the tribe's public relations firm.

Cromwell has said in the past that he doesn't believe a nearby slots parlor will affect the tribe's casino operation and, in fact, a marketing study prepared for the gaming commission suggests that a Taunton casino will take business away from the slot facility.

Commissioners made a point Thursday of saying that the inclusion of the Taunton site in marketing projections is not a prediction that the tribe will clear its arduous federal hurdles. KG Urban Enterprises is already seeking a commercial license in Region C in New Bedford and Foxwoods is kicking the tires on a possible Fall River site.

"We congratulate Plainridge," Andy Paven, a spokesman for KG Urban, said Thursday afternoon. "We're focused on our own project and were always aware of this possibility."

Clyde Barrow, a gambling expert with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's Center for Policy Analysis, said the Plainville site is a smart pick to recapture some of the hundreds of millions being spent out of state each year at Twin River Casino in Rhode Island and two Indian casinos in Connecticut.

"Plainville is in the best position to intercept traffic coming from central and Southeastern Massachusetts," he said.

The slot parlor isn't likely to hurt full-scale casinos proposed in the region because it's a different market for convenience gamblers, Barrow said.

The slot parlor is at a competitive disadvantage because it will pay 49 percent of its gross gambling revenues to the state in taxes. A Wampanoag casino would most likely pay 17 percent under the state compact and a commercial casino in the region would be taxed 25 percent.

Parx, which owns one of the most successful casinos in Pennsylvania, and Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based casino operator that was highly praised by commissioners, both lost out on bids Thursday. But, they could now turn their sights to the Southeastern Massachusetts license.

KG Urban is still seeking a gambling investor and the commission has said any license loser is welcome to find land in Region C and come back with a new pitch.

"That's absolutely a possibility," Barrow said.

Paven declined comment on whether KG Urban planned to speak with either company.

In winning the slots license, Penn National Gaming was given high marks for its innovative storm water system, its experience with 28 facilities across the country and its commitment to continue harness racing at the Plainridge Racecourse.

But it was horse racing and preserving track jobs that tipped the scales for the majority of commissioners.

"It's better to have a dollar on hand today than tomorrow. Better to have a job today than tomorrow," commissioner Enrique Zuniga said.

A slot parlor proposed in Leominster by the Cordish Companies was a close second to Plainville with Crosby and McHugh lobbying hard for the project because it would give a down-on-its-luck region an economic boost.

Cordish was given high marks for its plans to tie into the medical devices industry in central Massachusetts and because it would serve gamblers that would otherwise have to travel nearly an hour to other Bay State casinos.

"I have a tiny bit of a sick feeling that we're missing an opportunity for an important part of the state that really could have been something unique and special," Crosby said.


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