BOSTON (State House News Service) - The Gaming Commission on Tuesday agreed to seek a delay in its prescribed takeover of the state’s horse and simulcast racing industry, arguing that getting fluent by next month on the intricacies of the racing business will complicate its broader mission of getting casinos up and running.
Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby also said the commission would seek updates to the economic forecasts for jobs and revenue promised by proponents of expanded gambling, even if that means taking extra time to understand the impacts of casinos before issuing licenses.
“It feels like it’s going to be a long time, but this is a really complicated process. Pennsylvania got in trouble because they were under tremendous pressure to get the money rolling and that’s simply not something that is a constructive reason, or appropriate reason to move on this,” Crosby said.
As it stands, the commission does not anticipate awarding any of the three resort-casino licenses authorized last November by the Legislature until at least 2014, meaning it could be three to five years before a casino is operational and generating revenue for the state. Earlier in the day, Gov. Deval Patrick told a radio interviewer that he didn’t think it would take years to get gambling facilities operational.
“I think that’s going to take a little time. I don’t think they’ll all take years but it’s to going to happen in months,” he said on WBZ.
Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno has suggested the commission pick up its pace in the interest of helping cash-strapped cities like his, but despite being “sympathetic to his impatience” Crosby said the commission does not want to make a mistake by rushing.
The five-member Gaming Commission met for just the second time on Tuesday with many “housekeeping” items on its agenda as the commissioners proceed with trying to hire staff and learn how they function as a body.
The law authorizing expanded gambling in Massachusetts called for the commission to take over the functions of the state Racing Commission by May 20, but the commissioners agreed the timetable was aggressive.
“If we have to take over on May 20, we have to be ready to take it over on May 20 and do a good job and we will be ready. But in parallel we have agreed as a group that we need to see whether or not we can get the date postponed,” Crosby said.
Changing the date could require legislative approval. Crosby said he and other commissioners have spoken with members of the Legislature, the governor’s office and the Racing Commission about delaying the date to November or December.
In the meantime, the commission voted to enter into an agreement with the Department of Public Licensure to continue disbursing funds from the racing stabilization fund to dog and kennel owners as currently done since the ban on greyhound racing took effect.
The commission also announced on Tuesday that it plans to hold a day-long seminar on May 3 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for the Gaming Commission and the general public on the best practices in gaming administration, regulation and enforcement, with presentations from gaming experts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
After years of debate over the pros and cons of expanded gambling, Commissioner Bruce Stebbins was directed by the group to begin the process of updating jobs and revenue forecasts for expanded gambling in Massachusetts, including giving a fresh look at the Spectrum Gaming report used as a basis for the legislation.
Though the process could reopen the debate over the cost-benefit analysis of casinos in Massachusetts, Crosby said he would like to hear from critics, such as former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, who might question the methodology of economic analyses done previously.
“We’re not opening the question of whether to do this or not, but it’s completely legitimate to ask the question whether we have the proper data to base our decisions on,” Crosby said.
Crosby said a new look at the forecasts and potential impacts of a casino in different regions of the state could help inform decisions such as where to locate casinos and whether they should be phased in over time.
Asked whether he could foresee not issuing all three casino licenses based on the updated information the commission receives, Crosby said, “That’s going way too fast.”
“One of the issues we have to decide is the economics, the sequencing. The legislation says up to three. There are a host of issues that would presumably determine ‘up to,’ but we haven’t really gotten around to thinking about what those issues are yet,” Crosby said.
The commission also voted to approve up to $80,000 to hire an executive search firm that will assist in the search for an executive director. The commission has already hired Janice Reilly, a former chief of staff to Crosby when he served as secretary of administration and finance under Gov. Paul Cellucci, as the commission’s chief of staff