Friday June 15, 2012

WORCESTER -- Despite concerns from some industry leaders on the economic viability of having three resort casinos and a slots parlor in Massachusetts, gambling experts say if done correctly, four such venues would be successful in increasing state revenues.

Experts, who’ve analyzed the projected impact of casino gambling in the Bay State, briefed members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on their findings and predictions during a Thursday public forum at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester.

They also recommended areas that should be further researched, like licensing all the casinos at once or sequencing the process, as well as the effect casinos have on property values.

Experts project the gambling industry, the result of the November law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick would bring around $2 billion in revenue and over 12,000 jobs. The law calls for the licensing of up to three casinos and one slots parlor in different regions of the state.

Currently, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine are among states that have casino resorts and slots parlors, which draw hundreds of Massachusetts residents each year.

Panelist, Clyde Barrow, the director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, addressed market dilution concerns that arose last month when billionaire gambling mogul and Boston native Sheldon Adelson said he would no longer open a casino in his home state. In his presentation to the commission, Barrow said Adelson pulled out because his business model wouldn’t work in Massachusetts, not because there’s not enough market demand in the state.

He added that entertainment venues and clubs at resort casinos appeal to a younger crowd and that around 20 percent of casino visitors do not gamble, but still benefit from amenities.

"There’s plenty of unmet demand, at least in this part of the northeast," he said.

Like Barrow, other panel experts agreed that well-done quality resort casinos would attract both tourists and local residents to the venues.

Michael Pollock, the managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, said in order to compete against casinos in bordering state like Connecticut, the venues must offer higher quality amenities, like golf courses and spas.

"The best way to deal with potential saturation effect, and the best way to deal with substitution and all the other issues you’ve raised, is to focus on the benefits of the destination model, which does attract a broader demographic, it’s more likely to attract visitors from elsewhere: it’s more likely to withstand competition from elsewhere" he said.

But Stephen Norton, the executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy, expressed concerns of market overlap among the three casinos.

Norton said he believes the commission will face challenges in determining the degree of market overlap between the three casino regions across the state.

"I think everyone agrees there’s a market here," he said. "And the question is, how much competition would there be for that market?"

But, Stephen Crosby, the commission chair, said he remains confident that the proposed casinos and slots parlor would be economically viable in Massachusetts.

"I think that a major takeaway is ... that the underlying assumptions that underpin our law still hold: that the market can handle three casinos and a slots parlor at the levels and size, magnitude, that is envisioned in the legislation."

The commission is currently in the process of drafting regulations. Crosby said he has no specific end date in mind for making license decisions.

The owners of Suffolk Downs in East Boston unveiled plans Tuesday for a $1 billion resort casino at the 77-year-old thoroughbred horse racing track.

The proposal, to be known as "The Resort at Suffolk Downs," calls for a casino, two hotels, restaurants, retail shops, entertainment areas and racing on the 163-acre site in the city’s East Boston neighborhood. 

Suffolk Downs and its partner, Caesars Entertainment of Las Vegas, plan to bid for the sole east region casino license.

Meanwhile, Steve Wynn abandoned plans to build a resort in Foxborough near Gillette Stadium because of local opposition.