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Momentum on Side of Casinos in MA Repeal Effort

On November 4th, Massachusetts will decide the fate of casino gaming in the Bay State in the form of a ballot referendum. If approved, the Referendum (Question 3) would repeal the 2011 law that allowed for the construction and operation of three resort style casinos and a single slots casino in Massachusetts.

The casinos

The slots parlor was the first license awarded back in February, going to Penn National and the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, Massachusetts. Construction has already begun on the slots parlor, despite the repeal effort.

In June, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) awarded the first casino license to the MGM proposal in Springfield. This is the license for the Western Massachusetts region (Region B).

Last week, Wynn Entertainment was awarded the coveted Boston area gaming license (Eastern Massachusetts region or Region B) for their proposed casino in Everett.

According to the MGC website, the third casino license for the Southeastern region (Region C) isn’t expected to be determined until August 2015.

How we got here

Uncertainty over where the casinos would be located fueled the current push to repeal the previously popular casino law. But as the uncertainty has dissipated, so has the support for repeal.

When casino projects were introduced in several communities from Foxboro to Milford to Springfield to Revere, a number of anti-casino groups spawned in the state, proving the old adage that everybody loves gambling, just not in their backyard.

These groups rallied support in an effort to keep casinos out of their towns, and seem to have been emboldened by their successes.

The licensing process called for each town to go to the ballot box to decide if a casino was right for them. This was followed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission selecting the most suitable casino proposal in each of the state’s three regions.

The anti-casino groups went on a massive (mis)information campaign and the 2011 law saw its public support falter. These same groups also saw an opportunity to not only keep casinos out of their towns, but out of the state through a petition for repeal.

In June, the State Supreme Court ruled that the ballot question was legal, and despite millions of dollars spent by private companies and by the state, the fate of the Massachusetts casinos should be decided by the voters.

Polling supports casinos

While support for casinos in Massachusetts dipped during the proposal and licensing process (falling as far as 49% support for the casino law at one point), now that virtually all of the licenses have been awarded and residents know precisely where the casinos will be located, support for a repeal has fallen.

What is likely at play is, residents in the areas that shot down casino proposals no longer have to worry about a casino in “their backyard,” leading to opposition to casinos tapering off since the petition was first circulated –in many people’s minds the repeal initiative was a backup plan in case their town was selected.

On the flip side, in the locales awarded a license, support for a casino was already high (as it needed to pass a town/city-wide referendum) so the anti-casino groups were already dealing with less support in these areas.

Polling data from early September suggests the repeal effort has a stiff uphill climb.

The latest poll by The Boston Globe found 42% in favor of repeal and 51% against repeal, with 7% undecided.

A similar poll conducted by UMass/7 found 36% in favor of repeal and 59% against repeal, with just 5% undecided.

A third poll, conducted by WBUR/MassINC, found 37% in favor of repeal and 52% against repeal, although a full 10% were undecided in that poll.

The most recent polling data on Question 3 by the MassInc Polling group has 41% in favor of repeal and 51% against repeal, with 8% undecided.

Spending in favor of casinos

This week a pro-casino group, the Committee to Protect Mass Jobs, formally launched their statewide campaign, and as bad as the polling data trend has been, the repeal effort is likely more disheartened by this, and the current financials of the two sides.

According to the Berkshire Eagle, the Committee to Protect Mass Jobs has ramped up their efforts, spending $702,000 from Sept. 1-15, compared to just $577,000 in July and August combined –which is still far more than the opposition.

On the other side of the ledger is Repeal the Casino Deal, a group that spearheaded the initial petition and campaign. Repeal the Casino Deal has spent a mere $50,000 over the first two weeks of September, according to the Berkshire Eagle, and has raised just $36,000 in that same period, $25,000 of which came from a single donor.

MassLive.com highlighted the fundraising disparity between the two groups, citing campaign finance reports that show casino advocates have raised $1,785,150 from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, while Repeal the Casino Deal raised less than 14% of that amount, $247,222.

Repeal the Casino Deal is facing mounting debt issues as well. According to WBUR.org, the group owes some $440,000 to lawyers, consultants, and supporters, and has just $11,000 cash on hand. Considering their paltry fundraising numbers, this mounting debt could be a serious problem.

Approved casinos have also ramped up their efforts as well. Social media presences have been increased by Wynn and Plainridge, job fairs are being held, and an education campaign detailing the number and type of jobs, as well as painting a clear picture of the other advantages a casino will bring to the host town and the state as a whole, have begun.

 

 

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.

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