By Sarah Birnbaum | Tuesday, May 29, 2012
May 29, 2012
BOSTON — This week in Massachusetts state politics, the casino oversight board meets, officials commemorate the Western Massachusetts tornadoes and Springfield hosts the Democratic state convention.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts gaming commission holds its weekly meeting. The commission has been under pressure to move quickly and plans to start evaluating proposals for casinos in January. The meeting comes after two major casino operators — Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resorts — abandoned plans to build facilities in Massachusetts. Industry watchers say this could mean less competition for the Greater Boston license, leading to lower bids or less ambitious projects.
On May 30, the House of Representatives takes up a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. The bill would also authorize random audits of voting machines to make sure they work properly.
On Friday, the governor and lieutenant governor head to Western Massachusetts to commemorate the anniversary of the June 1, 2011 tornadoes. The storms destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Insurance claims topped $200 million and three people died.
> > WATCH: Tornado damage lingers
And on Saturday, Massachusetts Democrats travel to Springfield for the state convention. Consumer advocate and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren is expected to easily win the party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate. But North Shore immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco is also gathering steam. She will likely get the 15 percent of delegate votes needed to qualify for the primary ballot.
> > READ:Marisa DeFranco isn't going away
By Adam Reilly & Sarah Birnbaum | Wednesday, May 9, 2012
May 10, 2012
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick said on Thursday that he hoped the resignation of Carl Stanley McGee would let the new state Gaming Commission proceed with its work. McGee had been appointed interim executive director before concerns surfaced over a sexual assault accusation.
Patrick defended the appointment, however, saying, "The charges that were made in Florida against Stan were serious, they were investigated, there were no charges. And he and anyone else under those circumstances should be able to resume their life." McGee has worked for the Patrick administration since 2007. He is expected to return to his job as assistant secretary for policy and planning, where he was charged, among other things, with crafting the state’s expanded-gambling law.
The group Mass. Citizens for Children is calling for Patrick to place McGee on administrative leave and conduct further investigations.
“You don’t have to have CSI”
In 2007, McGee was accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in Florida. Authorities there chose not to prosecute — but later, McGee reached a civil settlement with the boy’s family. In a press conference Tuesday at the Beacon Street offices of Mass. Citizens for Children, attorney Carmine Durso said the details of that settlement should be made public.
“You don’t have to have CSI engaged to determine whether or not these allegations are credible,” said Durso, who sits on MCC’s board of directors. “There’s information out there — there’s information that could be provided.
“I see nothing wrong with asking [McGee] to disclose the amount of money that was paid,” he added. “I see nothing wrong with asking him to have the attorneys who represented him provide the documents that were part of the discovery in the case. Had the case gone to trial, this is information that would have been made public.”
Early test for the Gaming Commission
The furor over McGee’s hiring began after the Boston Globe reported that the Gaming Commission didn’tinvestigate the 2007 allegations before hiring McGee. State Rep. Dan Winslow said that was a serious mistake.
“It’s very important that we get this right,” said Winslow, a Republican from Norfolk. “Because this will set the bar for how the [Gaming] Commission treats future due diligence and future applicants.”
On Monday, Winslow urged the gaming commission to stay McGee’s hiring and delve into the old charges. Commission chairman Stephen Crosby refused, arguing that such a move would violate McGee’s right to the presumption of innocence. But at the Tuesday press conference, Durso claimed that no such right exists.
“An individual who is a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” he said. “This is not a criminal case.”
By Sean Corcoran | Thursday, April 26, 2012
April 26, 2012
TAUNTON, Mass. — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe outlined its plan for a 150,000-square-foot destination casino in the city of Taunton Thursday. There are three potential casino sites in the state; the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is considered the leading candidate for the southeastern Massachusetts region.
The Mashpees' casino plan includes three hotels, more than a dozen upscale retail outlets and a family-oriented indoor-outdoor water park, said tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell. The project would employ about 1,000 union workers during the construction phase while creating 2,500 permanent jobs during operation — jobs, Cromwell said, that would benefit both Taunton and tribe members.
"As a federally recognized tribe, we have over 2,600 citizens," Cromwell said. "And like any other government, we want to provide, like the city of Taunton, for our people. We have the same shared interest as the City of Taunton has, to provide for our people and create economic development. And jobs are important."
The resort casino is expected to provide about $120 million annually in economic development to the region through employment and by using local companies for goods and services. Michael Speller of the casino development company Arcana Limited, which is working with the Mashpees, said the Mashpee casino would be built in four phases on a 150-acre site near the intersection of Routes 24 and 140. The total build-out would take about 5 years at a cost of more than $500 million.
"I can assure you we'll work very hard to deliver a project that this community will be very, very proud to have in its midst," Speller said.
But the deal's not done yet. The tribe still must negotiate a compact with the state and an agreement with Taunton, to compensate the city for any impacts. Taunton residents must approve the project in a June 9 citywide referendum vote. The tribe also must get federal approval to put the proposed casino land in trust with the Department of the Interior.
Crowell said it's his belief all those things will fall in place. He was optimistic that construction will begin within the next 12 months.
By WGBH News | Tuesday, April 17, 2012
April 17, 2012
BOSTON — $4.5 billion dollars. With a B. That's how much money Massachusetts residents spent on lottery games last year. In fact, it's among the most successful lotteries in the country — and, according to the state, has provided more than $18 billion to cities and towns. But as the lottery turns 40 on April 18, not everyone is celebrating.
If you play the lottery in the Bay State, you have a better chance of winning. "There's a greater payout per capita" in Massachusetts than in other states, said former state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, and that leads to a chain reaction: People win more, so they play more, so they win more, so they play.
And whereas some states have responded to budget problems by increasing the percentage of lottery funds that go to cities and towns, Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said that won't happen here. "Massachusetts … is vigilant about making sure there's a good payout," he said. "The public would know if there were a public policy change to reduce the payout."
O'Brien noted that the lottery has an odd double status: It's both "a voluntary tax" and part of people's entertainment budget.
Les Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling agreed that the comparatively good odds kept the lottery in business. But the idea that it makes people richer is an illusion, he said: "People take that money [they win], they plough it right back in. So having such a high payout rate, you're juicing the ticket. You're getting people to play more."
Beckwith argued that the interest in gambling was eternal: "There will always be there out in the public a thirst for games of chance."
However, Bernal considered that a red herring. His organization obtained the state's lottery marketing plans and market research for 2009-10. "We filed that request specifically to show that this isn't about taking existing gamblers and giving them a game," he said. "The state lottery for 40 years has been actively creating and luring new gamblers to lose more money than they ever have before." Worse, he said, they've been creating ever-spendier scratch tickets.
And what's the larger impact? Bernal thought the lottery has undermined American values. "We turned America's working class … into a nation of habitual bettors," he said, pointing to a 2006 study by the Consumer Federation of America that found "21 percent of Americans think the most practical way to wealth is to play the lottery." The belief was even more prevalent among people with incomes under $25,000.
O'Brien was concerned about the impact on municipalities, especially now that Massachusetts has authorized casino gambling. Lotteries are more popular than taxes.
"The bigger issue, it's the dishonesty in terms of how we fund government," she said. "Things like lottery, things like casinos, those are in essence almost gimmicks, if you will, to find a way to underwrite the needs that we have."
By Sarah Birnbaum | Tuesday, April 17, 2012
April 17, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts' newly formed gambling oversight board held its second meeting on Tuesday — and its members agreed that they need some expert advice.
The new board is still in its infancy. And the commissioners say they need some tutelage. None of the five commissioners has any experience in the gambling industry, so they’re hosting a daylong conference to teach them about shaping what will be a multi-billion-dollar addition to the state's economy, once the three casinos and one slots parlor the Legislature authorized are up and running.
Board chairman Steven Crosby said industry experts from New Jersey and Pennsylvania will fly in to teach the Commission about all the tasks ahead of them from seeking casino proposals to crafting regulations to enforcing the laws.
“Rather than have the Commissioners fly out to a whole different places and have a whole bunch of experts, we thought the experts should come in and talk to us,” he explained.
Commissioner James McHugh added that the cities and towns who are being courted by casino developers also needed help. "We’re starting to get questions from the people in the various cities and towns and the question is, how do we respond to those inquiries?” he said.
The law requires a local referendum before a casino can set up shop in any given town. Applicants are supposed to pay for the help the municipalities need to analyze a new proposal — but McHugh said towns don’t know how to access those funds.
The commissioners also discussed the fine line between providing help to cities and towns and the need to keep developers at arm's length.
An open educational forum is scheduled for May 3 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Members of the public can submit questions on mass.gov.
By Cristina Quinn | Thursday, April 12, 2012
April 13, 2012
BOSTON — As Massachusetts starts the process to build casinos, it appears that residents are not waiting to gamble. They increased their spending by 6 percent last year in casinos and slot parlors in the neighboring New England states.
According to a survey released April 11 by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Bay State residents made more than 7.1 million visits and spent nearly $909 million in Connecticut's resort casinos and at slot parlors in Rhode Island and Maine.
The study also shows that for the first time, people from Massachusetts visited and spent more at Rhode Island’s two slot parlors than Rhode Island’s own residents. Bay State residents made 2 million visits to Twin River Casino and Newport Grand Slots, spending an estimated $284 million, which is a 7 percent increase over 2010 spending levels.
Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis, said two factors are behind this surprise finding.
“I think the dominant factors are that Twin River has consciously marketed themselves to Massachusetts residents in central and southeastern Massachusetts and were successful," he said. “And the second factor is that I think more people are stopping at Twin River because of higher gas prices and they’re staying closer to home.”
Barrow also said that with unemployment continuing to decline, private payrolls growing, and home prices stabilizing, it is likely that 2012 will mark the beginning of a recovery in the region’s gaming market. That bodes well for casinos being considered in Massachusetts.
“The fact that we’re seeing Massachusetts residents again increase their spending, I think, suggests that by the time we open gaming venues in this state, they’ll be opening right into the thrust of the economic recovery in the next couple of years,” he said.
Since the center began publishing its annual New England Casino Gaming Update in 2004, Massachusetts residents have spent over $8.7 billion at the region's casinos and slot parlors and directly generated over $2 billion in tax revenues to Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine state governments.
> > READ: The complete survey findings (pdf)