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Massachusetts

You might not think of Massachusetts as a gambling destination, but the state is hoping that this opinion will change in the coming years. Thanks to new legislation, a slots parlor has already opened in the Bay State, and three resort-style casinos are coming next. This is all part of the state’s vibrant response to increasing gambling competition in the region, with both developers and the government hoping that the new venues will keep the wealthy population of the state spending its gambling dollars within their borders.

Early Adopter of Online Regulation

At the moment, there is no regulated online gambling in the state of Massachusetts. However, that doesn’t mean that players in the state can’t enjoy their favorite games over the Internet. Many offshore sites still offer slots, blackjack, poker and other favorites to players in the state.

This is due to the fact that Massachusetts is typically viewed as a grey market in terms of Internet gaming legality. That means that while the state government doesn't provide official gaming licenses to the sites, there’s also no regulatory framework in place, and there are no laws making it illegal for players to participate there. This has led to a situation where plenty of reputable and trustworthy operators in Europe and other locations still allow residents to play on their sites for real money.

In the near-to-mid range future, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the state start regulating the virtual gaming industry, however. The issue has already started coming up in the state legislature: in both 2013 and 2014, bills have been introduced by lawmakers, even if they haven’t gotten far. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has said that it would study the issue, and the state lottery has said that it would like to consider it as a possible area of expansion as well.

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Live Expansion

But while those potential moves toward regulation are interesting, the big news in Massachusetts has been all about live casinos. In 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Expanded Gaming Act, a bill that would allow for one full casino in each of three regions of the state, as well as for one additional “slots parlor” that could be located anywhere in the state. The bill survived a ballot question that would have repealed the new laws in 2014, ensuring that resort gaming would be coming to the state.

The reaction to the legislation has differed in various communities. While some towns were welcoming of the idea of resorts coming to their areas, others fiercely fought the prospect, setting up several “not in my backyard” situations throughout the state. The licensing process required host communities to approve each project by a local vote, and some major firms suffered stunning rebukes when their proposals were shot down by voters.

The highest profile instance of this came in East Boston, where a casino had been proposed at the Suffolk Downs racetrack. Voters turned down the prospect by a surprisingly comfortable margin, which led developer Mohegan Sun to turn instead to the town of Revere – a move that required moving their proposed project by just a matter of acres, since Suffolk Downs straddled the two cities.

Revere’s residents were much more welcoming to the idea, overwhelmingly supporting the project. But in the end, the Boston-area license went to a Wynn Resorts proposal in the city of Everett, despite the objections of the City of Boston. That resort still seems likely to go forward, though it has been beset by an onslaught of delays, lawsuits, and controversies since to was first suggested.

A second casino has also been approved by state regulators: the MGM Springfield in Western Massachusetts. This proposal went through with much less competition and far less controversy, but it too has prompted plenty of discussion. The construction of the venue has been delayed due to some other development work in the area (in particular, a highway project), meaning that the original 2017 opening date has been pushed back to 2018. The resort has also provoked a response in Connecticut, where officials are ready to start a “border war” by building a new casino just across the state line in an attempt to stop Connecticut gamblers from crossing north when the MGM facility is opened.

One project that has already opened for business is the slots parlor, which ultimately was awarded to Plainridge Park. The venue, which only features slot machines and other forms of electronic gambling, opened during the summer of 2015 and appeared to be an immediate success. While revenues have declined since the excitement surrounding the launch, the venue is still bringing in over $12 million per month.

There is still also the prospect of one additional casino being built in the state. While Massachusetts regulators initially held off on awarding a license in the southeastern region, they began taking applications in 2015, after it seemed that tribal efforts to build a casino were becoming less likely. But after the process began, the US Department of Interior approved sovereign tribal lands for the Mashpee Wampanoag, and the Native American tribe immediately announced that it would like to build a casino on the land. It is unclear whether regulators will still want to award the third license, and if they do, how two nearby venues would coexist in the area near Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

Future Developments

As we discussed above, there is still a lot that remains to be seen going forward in the Massachusetts gambling marketplace. The Wynn Everett is still fighting some legal battles, including lawsuits from the cities of Boston, Somerville, and Revere. Delays in Springfield may prove to be costly, especially if a competing Connecticut casino can be built first. And both a potential license for a venue in Brockton and a Wampanoag proposal that is likely to face challenges have caused uncertainty in the southeastern portion of the state.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that either the Everett or Springfield casinos will open for business before 2018, leaving some time before the state will really see what kind of impact these resorts will cause. There has also been early talk of building a second slots parlor somewhere in the state, and the question may be taken to voters in a ballot initiative at some point.

As for online gaming, the state remains on the list of potential jurisdictions where regulation could come before too long, but it is not one of the favorites to do so very soon. Both California and Pennsylvania seem more likely to pass legislation to allow poker or other Internet games, and even neighboring New York has seemed slightly more forward in their virtual gaming ambitions.

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