BOSTON (SHNS) – On Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick put pen to paper and made casino-style gambling a reality for Massachusetts. A decade later, the vision for expanded gaming has not been fully realized yet, players have pumped more than $25.6 billion into slot machines alone, almost 5,000 people are working in the casino industry here and the state has raked in nearly $1 billion in gaming revenue.
In the years since Patrick signed the expanded gaming law, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has organized itself, installed rigid and detailed rules to tightly regulate the industry, licensed three properties and managed their construction, and now oversees the Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor in Plainville, the MGM Springfield resort casino and the Encore Boston Harbor resort casino in Everett.
But state regulators have not yet issued (in fact, they have rejected a bid for) the third casino license authorized by the 2011 law, meaning that the promise of job opportunities and economic development remains unfulfilled for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.
Relatedly, gambling in Massachusetts has not lived up to the $300 million annual state revenue figure that casino proponents trumpeted a decade ago in the run-up to legalization.
Jobs and Taxes
“Expanded gaming in Massachusetts, for me, is about creating jobs; good jobs at good wages for people all across the commonwealth. It’s really, to me, as simple as that,” Patrick said just before signing the bill in his office 10 years ago. “It’s not the solution to every economic challenge we face and it won’t be the cause of every social ill that we in the commonwealth together have to deal with.”
Plainridge Park Casino won the law’s lone slots parlor license in February 2014 and opened its doors on June 24, 2015. MGM Springfield was next, securing the Western Mass. or Region B license in June 2014 and opening Aug. 24, 2018. Encore Boston Harbor in Everett landed the high-demand Greater Boston or Region A license in September 2014 and opened the $2.6 billion facility on June 23, 2019.
The three gambling outlets now employ 4,860 people either full- or part-time (3,396 at Encore Boston Harbor, 1,124 at MGM Springfield and 340 at Plainridge Park Casino), according to each facility’s most recent quarterly report to the Mass. Gaming Commission. All three have been actively hiring as the casinos rebound from their forced closure early in the pandemic and then months of COVID-related restrictions.
The Gaming Commission rejected a Brockton-based bid for the southeastern Mass. or Region C license in 2016 and has not seriously considered reopening the bidding in that region, despite the argument from city officials that a casino would help turn around the city’s economic fortunes by providing new jobs.
Since it opened, Plainridge Park Casino has generated a cumulative $456.28 million in state revenue from more than $931.1 million in gross gaming revenue. Of the roughly $11.86 billion that bettors have put into the Plainville slots, Plainridge has paid out 92.14 percent as winnings, making theirs the most player-friendly slots in the state.
MGM Springfield has taken in $695.25 million in gross gaming revenue since it opened — about $521.6 million from slot machines and $173.66 million from its table games — generating $173.8 million for the state. Gamblers have bet about $6.2 billion at MGM’s slots since they opened, but data on total table game wagers is not available for either casino.
Though it opened almost a year later, Encore Boston Harbor has already eclipsed MGM Springfield in most categories. The Everett casino has collected more than $1.16 billion in gross gaming revenue — $608.39 million from slots and $554.1 million from table games — which works out to about $290.62 million for state coffers. More than $7.54 billion has been wagered at the Encore slots.
As of last week, Plainridge has 1,019 active slot machines; MGM Springfield had 1,597 slot machines, 52 table games, 15 stadium gaming seats and 13 poker tables; and Encore Boston Harbor had 2,674 slot machines, 189 table games and 54 stadium gaming seats, according to the Gaming Commission.
In all, Massachusetts has collected about $920.71 million in state revenue from gaming since June 2015. The three properties currently average roughly $22.2 million in state revenue each month, which puts them on pace for roughly $266.4 million in annual state revenue — shy of the $300 million estimate that casino backers cited during debate on Beacon Hill.
The Politics of Gaming
Patrick’s signing ceremony in 2011 capped off years of debate that saw Beacon Hill falter time and again amid widespread controversy about the implications of expanded gaming and an inability among legislative leaders and governors to align their priorities.
The collapse of negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders on the final night of formal business before the 2010 election cycle set the stage for private, closed-door talks among the governor and legislative leaders early in 2011, which led to a pre-negotiated bill that passed easily in both chambers of the Legislature (118-33 in the House and 23-14 in the Senate).
Of the 47 lawmakers who voted against casino gaming in 2011, 20 remain in the Legislature (Reps. Balser, Dykema, Garballey, Garlick, Malia, Peake, Pignatelli, J. Rogers, Ferguson and Smola, and Sens. Brownsberger, Chang-Diaz, Creem, Eldridge, Finegold, Jehlen, Keenan, Montigny, Rodrigues and Senate President Spilka).
The News Service reported at the time that Patrick was joined for the bill-signing by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Sens. Jennifer Flanagan and Richard Ross, and Reps. Brian Dempsey, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, Russell Holmes and Joe Wagner. Only Holmes and Wagner are still in office.
Non-Casino Gaming, Both Old and New
By the time Massachusetts made casino gambling legal, the Lottery had already been around for 40 years and had become an important source of money that the state could use to provide local aid to cities and towns. The expanded gambling law required casino operators to partner with the Lottery to sell its products at gambling facilities in an attempt to protect some of that local aid source.
“I’ve been telling the casinos, ‘Bring it on,'” Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who oversees the Lottery, said in a June 2015 radio interview. “We’re going to win.”
For all of the hand-wringing over whether casinos would harm sales of scratch tickets and draw game numbers, the Massachusetts Lottery has posted some of the best financial results in its history since casinos have opened here.
The Lottery set records for revenue ($5.827 billion), profit ($1.105 billion), prize payouts, commissions and bonuses for retailers, scratch ticket sales and Keno sales in fiscal year 2021, topping its previous highs established in fiscal year 2019. Even amidst the pandemic, fiscal year 2020 saw the Lottery post what at the time was its third-best year in terms of revenue.
Now, 10 years after casino gambling was made legal in Massachusetts, Beacon Hill is grappling with the idea of further expanding gaming here — this time to include legal sports wagering.
The Massachusetts House overwhelmingly approved sports betting legalization in July, but the Senate has never truly engaged on the topic and has not appeared interested in doing so even though senators have not publicly expressed outright opposition to the idea.
If sports betting becomes legal in Massachusetts as it is in more than 30 states including neighboring Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, it is widely expected that the Gaming Commission would add the activity and industry to its regulatory portfolio.
“I think this is going to be the issue that we’re going to be all dealing with in the very near future,” Gaming Commissioner Brad Hill, who voted in favor of sports betting this summer as a state representative, said last week.