After months of speculation over who is going to operate a casino in Massachusetts, the pool of candidates has narrowed to 11 companies vying for 3 casinos and one slot parlor.

The state’s 2011 gambling law allows for one casino in each of the three regions:

In the greater Boston area - Caesar’s Entertainment is hoping to build a $ 1 billion resort at Suffolk Downs.  Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn is courting neighboring Everett, and Colorado developer David Nunes has plans for a suburban casino in Milford.

In Western Massachusetts – MGM, Penn National Gaming, and Hard Rock are all looking at the Springfield area – while Mohegan Sun wants to build in nearby Palmer.

In the Southeastern region, commercial bidding is on hold – while the Mashpee Wampanoags continue negotiating with state and federal authorities over a tribal casino – possibly in Taunton.

Two additional companies submitted the $400,000 application fee – but have not chosen a location yet. 

One sole slots parlor can be built anywhere in the state. The Plainridge and Raynham racetracks are both contenders for that license.

Stephen Crosby, Chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission joined Emily Rooney on Greater Boston to discuss the next step in the process of bringing casinos to the Commonwealth:

“Now the fun part begins. The threshold issue was, could we get serious competition, because if we couldn’t get competition, we weren’t going to get the best these folks have to offer. Now we’ve got robust competition- a lot of the big players, almost all of the big players. So now we get to focus on what are the criteria. How do we get the most money, the most economic development, the most job generation, the most amenities for the surrounding communities, the best treatment for problem gambling?”

What’s the order of business in this process? What’s next?

The process is, for their $400,000 they get to have their backgrounds checked. And that’s what is going on right now. The $400,000 will probably more than pay for the background checks. We do an in depth background check of all the entities and individuals who have any influence over gambling in Massachusetts.

Who does that?

We have an enforcement and investigations bureau. And that bureau is empowered by law; it is a law enforcement agency. But we don’t have the staff to do all these right yet. So we’ve hired FBI agents, former state troopers and forensic accountants. And if you do business in Macau we have to investigate you in Macau, too. So it’s a big, big deal. Once you get through that, which we hope will be a 3-6 month period, then if you pass that, and we judge you to be suitable, then you will be invited to give us your formal application. We would hope to be making the decisions over the fall through the beginning of next spring.”

You might pick one as early as next fall?

We could pick a slots parlor, which is less capital investment, easier movement, by as soon as September.

How about things like traffic patterns, neighborhood concerns, putting restaurants out of business…?

There are really 3 sets of things. The first is the facility itself. How many jobs you’re going to generate, how much money are you going to put into it. That’s the core facility; there’s going to be a hotel and so forth. Then you have baseline communication. How are you going to address problems of crime, traffic, impact on schools, impact on housing supplies, impacts on public services, impacts on local tourism, impacts on local restaurants. That’s the second package or critical criteria. And then there is - how much are you going to market to out of state guests? We don’t want just to move people from one source of spending their money in Massachusetts to another one. That doesn’t do anything to Massachusetts. But if we can repatriate money from people who are now going to Connecticut or Rhode Island, that’s big money for us. Or, if we can bring in people from out of state. That’s the money that’s high impact for us.

Also, what other kinds of amenities are you going to give us? Can you put in a museum? How are you going to contribute to other tourist attractions and create other profit centers to help you attract a much broader audience?

Is it the casino’s issue or problem if it impacts local businesses?

It’s only their problem because our legislation makes it their problem. Typically what the casino operator wants to do is put in a big box, shut the doors, bring people in, no windows - never have them go anyplace else. If you want to swim, go to the spa, eat, sleep, gamble, they want you to do it at that facility. But that’s begun to change over time. Local communities in Massachusetts, and our local legislation are saying you have to collaborate with the other tourist attractions. There is going to be some tradeoff, and there’s going to be some substitution. Some restaurants are going to be negatively affected. But our job is to try to minimize that downside. And like I said, it wouldn’t have that downside at all if we could attract people from out of state.

Why is the Wampanoag bid on hold?

It’s not the Wampanoag’s, it’s the incredible process for permitting Indian gaming. You have to have reservation land. They don’t have reservation land. Well, whosever fault it is, it takes forever. As you probably know, we essentially gave the tribe another 90 days to try to get a new compact negotiation with Massachusetts and to try to get whatever they can in the land-in-trust. There has been some indication that maybe something is happening on that front. But sometime pretty soon, we’re going to have to say how long do we wait.

These two applicants who haven’t committed to a region, are they are waiting to see if the Indian tribes get these casinos, and if they don’t they are waiting to move in on that territory?

Yes. But also, they are not exclusive. We can open it up to commercial applications and the tribe could still go ahead and do a casino if they want.

Right next door?

They could, if they could get it financed. If they get their land, they could get it financed. And also the tribe could bid as a commercial applicant as well. The tribe doesn’t go away if we decide to open it up for commercial applications. There’s plenty of other ways for the tribe to stay involved. The legislators didn’t want two casinos in Southeastern Mass. So they were trying to say,  “Tribe, if you can get it together you’ll be the one, if you can’t, somebody else will be the one.” There always is the possibility of a second casino if the tribe ever does eventually get its reservation land. Which the legislature didn’t want but there’s no way to totally avoid that.

How much influence do people like Mayor Menino have? Does he have more say, less say than some of the other people that come in?

The legislature wanted us to be independent. I have a 7-year term. If I wanted to, I’ll be in office longer than the next governor. And probably even Mayor Menino’s 8th and 9th terms. We will respect what the local communities have to say, for sure. And if Boston is enthusiastically behind a Boston proposal, a Suffolk Downs proposal, that’s meaningful, because community support is important. But Mayor Menino means no more to us than the Mayor of Everett or the mayor of anyplace else. It’s the net package of benefits to the community. And we were designed to be insulated from anything other than our best judgment about those net benefits. 

I’ll be sure to let the mayor know you said that. Steve Crosby, good luck.