A proposed Wareham, Massachusetts racino has created new legislative controversy, as officials continue to disagree over what type of gaming venue to place in the southeastern region of the state.
The already contentious debate got more complex after state Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, R-Wareham, submitted a bill — H 4070 — calling for either a full-scale resort casino or a slots parlor, but not both, in southeastern Massachusetts. Her proposal remains under consideration.
Concurrently, Notos Group, a real estate and golf course developer, wants to open a horse track and slots parlor in Wareham. That would be less extensive than a full-scale casino. The larger size venue was called for in the 2011 law that set up statewide gaming development.
Two areas in Massachusetts, Regions A and B, both have operating resort casinos, the Encore Boston Harbor and the MGM Springfield. What to put in Region C remains unresolved.
The new proposal by Notos would open a venue, called Wareham Park, on a 275-acre parcel near highways on the way to Cape Cod, a popular tourist destination. It would not have as extensive table games as do the Encore and MGM Springfield. But Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, questions if the recent proposal gives special treatment to Notos.
The additional legislation corrupts the process,” Pacheco told Casino.org. Something less than a full-scale casino, Pacheco explained, leads to “diluting the market in that region.”
A further regulatory wrinkle is that the license for a single slots parlor, as called for in the 2011 bill, was already granted to Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.
Now, Notos wants the legislature to allow the MGC to issue a second slots license instead of the license for the resort casino, changing the provisions under the 2011 law. “Before we do more, we need to see that vision actively implemented,” Pacheco said.
Competition Improves Gaming Options
Notos has argued its proposal would lead to more competition. Derek Sullivan, Wareham’s town administrator, agreed that increased competition is a worthwhile goal.
H 4070 “actually encourages a vigorous competition for the best possible plan for Southeastern Massachusetts and gives the Gaming Commission the discretion to make an intelligent and sustainable choice,” Sullivan told Casino.org. If the legislation is passed, several “competing proposals” will likely emerge in Region C,” Sullivan said.
“Without this bill, the Gaming Commission is locked into an all-or-nothing choice, forced to decide between a full-sized destination resort casino or nothing,” Sullivan explained.
If a gaming proposal moves forward in Wareham, the town would get to vote, Sullivan said. “It would have to go through a rigorous community process and the people of Wareham ultimately have the final say.”
Sullivan added that, in this way, the intent of the 2011 bill will be met.
Giving the Commission the authority to consider market conditions, community needs and viability gives them and us a much better chance for success in fulfilling the intent of the 2011 legislation and delivering long-promised jobs and economic development opportunities for Southeastern Massachusetts,” Sullivan said.
Also, there is a pending proposal for a Wampanoag tribal casino in Taunton, which is about 23 miles away from Wareham. Recently, the MGC said it wants an update on the legal proceedings between the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the federal government regarding the proposed $1 billion casino resort.
If that casino is approved, and a Wareham commercial casino is opened, that would lead to four full casinos in the state, which is more than what was called for in the original bill, Pacheco said.
“It’s very difficult for a commercial casino to compete against a tribal casino,” Pacheco adds.
Also, the MGC last month determined there are insufficient grounds to reconsider a 2016 application from Massachusetts Gaming & Entertainment (MG&E) for a proposed casino in Brockton. It is a city in southeastern Massachusetts, which is also part of Region C.
Cape Cod Traffic Helpful to Wareham Casino
When asked to comment on the Wareham proposal, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who extensively studies gaming in New England, said the city may get some revenue if a slots parlor opened there.
“I would certainly doubt that a slots parlor would be a game changer for Wareham,” McGowan told Casino.org. “Given that [the Twin River] casino in Rhode Island is having layoffs and Connecticut is planning on building a casino in East Hartford, it would seem that this area is well saturated with gambling opportunities.”
Still, Wareham already has many tourists who travel through there to and from Cape Cod.
“One would hope that whatever gambling facility is developed would be able attract additional tourists to the area,” McGowan said. “Wareham is a destination on the way to Cape Cod, so it would be a show-stopper.”