Gambling in some form has been legal in Massachusetts since 1934 when the state legalized dog and horse betting. The current lottery, which consists of scratchers and draw games has been operating since 1971. Gambling boats are allowed to operate in the Atlantic Ocean. (Federal waters are not restricted by state gambling laws.) The Expanded Gaming Act, passed in 2011 allowed the State of Massachusetts to have one slot parlor and three Las Vegas-style casinos.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission was established and the Chairman appointed in 2011 by the Governor in response to the Act becoming law. The Commission is fully responsible for granting casino licenses. The Chairman and the additional four members of the Commission established meticulous requirements for any person or group considering a bid for a casino license. Examples of these requirements include:
1. Minimum $500 million capital investment; Chairman expects proposals to be over $1 billion.
2. Applications must include plans for at least one hotel (more is acceptable), casino games, and other attractions people enjoy
3. The plans must be compatible with the long-standing culture of that district in the state
The law says that up to three licenses may be issued. A license will not be issued to a proposal on the basis of location alone.
Three years after the Expanded Gaming Law in 2011, the issue went to the citizens of Massachusetts on a ballot after a Supreme Court Judge ruled that the question of casinos should be decided by the voters. Casinos promise jobs and economic growth; on the negative side – gambling is thought to bring in corruption and destruction to families and the economy. The 2014 vote did not repeal the Gaming Law of 2011.
Plainridge Park Casino opened in June 2015 as a slot parlor with a variety of food venues and live harness horse racing and betting. The parlor also has nightly entertainment.
Two casino resorts allowed by the 2011 Gaming Act are currently being built. The first is under construction in western Massachusetts. The $950 million contract to build a casino and resort hotel was awarded to MGM Resorts International by the Springfield Mayor in 2013 and is expected to open in 2018. The proposed six-story hotel will be located on Main Street. New construction of the resort means that old buildings in downtown Springfield must be taken out. Controversy has arisen due to one of these buildings being considered a Historic Place, however, construction continues.
The other casino resort under construction is the Wynn Boston Harbor that borders Boston in the eastern section of the state. This luxury casino is planned as a five-star hotel that includes a Las Vegas-style casino, harbor walk along the Mystic River, convention rooms, and upscale retail stores. The entire resort and casino is expected to cost $2 billion. The approved 30-acre section of land was previously a chemical plant and toxic waste cleanup has been an issue. Construction, delayed early by various law suits, claims to be on schedule for the 2019 opening.
Aside from the Casino Bill of 2011 that allowed three casino resorts and one slots-only parlor, Indian Tribes, mostly in the southeastern region of Massachusetts are self-governed by tribes and do not fall under State law. The Mashpee Wampanoag is currently constructing a $500 million tribal casino in that area. Plans include an event center and water park for families, in addition to the casino and two hotels. The other large Indian Tribe in the southeast area is the Aquinnah who are planning to put a casino in Martha’s Vineyard, which they claim is tribal land. At this point, the Federal government has given the OK, but the State of Massachusetts is blocking the progression with a law suit. The State claims that Aquinnah previously gave up the right to build a casino on the popular summer resort. Obviously, the tribe disagrees.
The third casino license, also allowed in southeastern Massachusetts is currently in dispute. The Gaming Commission recently rejected a proposal from Brockton, Massachusetts because of the distance to the planned tribal casino in Tauton seventeen miles away. It seems that if a commercial casino, who pays 25% of its gambling revenue to the State, is close to a tribal casino, the tribe pays 0% as opposed to the otherwise 17% of revenue paid by the tribe. The Commission voted 4-1 against the commercial casino, but claims proposals will be considered in the area. It may be difficult for any commercial casino to be constructed so near the tribes.