Discussing ways to make casino gaming reality
By Taryn Plumb
Turley Publications Correspondent
BOSTON – The newly-formed Massachusetts Gaming Commission is, as chair Stephen Crosby put it in a pun, “off to the races.”
The five-member group, which will oversee casino gaming in the state, held its first meeting April 10 at UMass Boston. The nearly four-hour session was largely dedicated to general housekeeping, and settling administrative, logistical and organizational matters. But after lengthy presentations, the commission also voted to hire two New Jersey-based consulting firms as it moves forward with its charge: Michael and Caroll PC of Atlantic City, and Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group.
As Crosby explained to the assembled crowd, the April 10 assembly would be the first of “very, very many public meetings,” which could be held every week or even more frequently.
The commission has already held a second meeting, this Tuesday (April 17) at the Division of Insurance in Boston, during which it was to discuss its search for an executive director, record-keeping and human resources, as well as the process for providing information to host and surrounding communities.
The group was established as part of the new law, which was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick on Nov. 22, that legalizes three, resort-style casinos – one to be licensed in the southeastern part of the state, another around Worcester or Boston, and a third to the west – and one racetrack slot parlor in the state. Its five members, which will “select, license, oversee, and regulate all expanded gaming facilities,” according to the law, were appointed by Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Treasurer Steve Grossman.
Its members include chair Crosby, founding dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston; James McHugh, retired associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court; former New Jersey Lt. Colonel Gayle Cameron; Enrique Zuniga, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust; and a western Mass. representative, Bruce Stebbins, Springfield’s business development administrator, and a former city councilor.
All eyes in the central and western parts of the state have been steadfastly watching the long process to casino legalization, and, in the months since the law was put into effect, big plans have surfaced in the area. In addition to Mohegan Sun, which for years has positioned itself to open a casino just off Palmer’s MassPike exit, proposals have surfaced in Springfield (from Las Vegas-headquartered Ameristar Casinos, Inc.); and in Holyoke (from Hard Rock International). MGM Resorts International had also been looking at a site in Brimfield, but company officials recently announced that they dropped that idea, are now exploring options elsewhere in the area.
As state Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) explained just before the bill was signed into law (he voted in favor), the gaming commission was established so that “politicians won’t meddle” and play favorites. The goal was to have casinos set up “without political involvement,” he said.
Crosby, for his part, explained that the commission is unusual in that it has full-time members, is in start-up mode, has “virtually no staff,” and at the same time operates under the same rules and regulations, including the Open Meeting Law, of public boards.
Its goal, he said, is to “design and implement a participatory, transparent and fair process.” As part of that, members travel around the state to talk with citizens.
He acknowledged that, “we’re in a learning mode.”
At its first meeting, the commission interviewed representatives of both Michael and Caroll and Spectrum Gaming with the intent to choose between the two – but ultimately couldn’t come to a decision due to their varied experience and expertise.
Principals from Michael and Carroll were involved in New Jersey’s 1970s Casino Control Act, helped to establish gaming in Australia, and were also involved in the initial setting up of Foxwoods. Spectrum Gaming, meanwhile, has compiled a number of reports for public and private parties including Gov. Patrick – some of which have come under scrutiny from those who oppose casinos – and has also worked with dozens of clients in the public and private sector, as well as with Native American tribes.
Both firms will now serve as consultants, helping the commission to develop a strategic plan, and also make other recommendations related to the various aspects of their charge.
Meanwhile, the commission selected Cambridge-based Anderson and Kreiger law firm to create a code of ethics; appointed Janice Reilly as its first chief of staff; and adopted, as a general guideline, Robert’s Rules of Order.
Moving forward, Crosby explained: “All of us have discussed frequently that the debate about whether or not to have expanded gaming in Massachusetts is over. It has been authorized by the representatives of the people and the governor. We now are committed to trying to implement that public policy in the best way that we possibly can.”
For more on the commission, visit mass.gov/gaming/.