Massachusetts Commercial Casino Industry Likely Set Following Mashpee Tribal Verdict

Massachusetts legalized commercial sports betting in November 2011, when then-Governor Deval Patrick (D) signed the state’s Expanded Gaming Act.

The package approved a slots parlor and three large integrated resort casinos across the Commonwealth. Currently, Massachusetts is home to two full-scale Category 1 resort casinos, Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield. Plainridge Park is the only slots Category 2 facility.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) still hold a third and final Category 1 permit. The unissued license is only available for the state’s Region C, including the counties of Plymouth, Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket.

More than ten years since the Region C casino license was approved, the state has yet to issue the concession due to lingering concerns that a Native American could build a $1 billion resort in Bristol’s Taunton. That likelihood increased this week after the US Department of the Interior (DOI) finalized a years-long dragging legal battle.

That verdict concluded that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe indeed holds the federal rights to claim sovereignty on 321 acres of land in Mashpee and Taunton.

Unattractive market

The DOI ruling that Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe land will remain in the federal trust means the Native American group can run Class II bingo-based gaming on the sovereign land. In addition, the tribe can pursue slot machines and table game authorization by getting into a Class III gaming agreement with the state.

The Mashpee Tribe has long been linked with Genting Group. The multibillion-dollar conglomerate in Malaysia oversees several US casinos, including Resorts World properties in Las Vegas and New York.

If the state and Mashpee can come to Class III terms, which would be a first in the state, the tribe and Genting’s proposed $1 billion First Light Resort $ Casino would be cleared for development. That would possibly make the Region C commercial casino permit unattractive.

Massachusetts’ gaming lax requires that every Category 1 license invest at least $500 million and pay a one-time $85 million licensing fee.

Besides First Light, Region C is adjacent to Rhode Island’s two commercial casinos, Bally’s Tiverton and Bally’s Twin. Both casinos offer slot machines and table games, and sports wagering. Massachusetts legislators again adjourned their 2021 legislative sitting without passing a sports wagering bill.

“There is speculation that a casino in this C region is not viable due to oversaturation of the market because the region is located in close proximity to Rhode Island, which has its own casino,” state Representative Carol Doherty (D-Bristol) opined. “The uncertainty around the status of the tribal casino in Taunton adds to the complexity of a Region C license.”

Sports wagering has been the fastest expanding section of the US gaming industry since 2018. That’s when the Supreme Court stated the federal government does not have the power to determine which state can and cannot have legal sports betting.

Compact considerations

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts. Because the state currently does not have a tribal casino, the state and Mashpee would be embarking on strong discussions regarding Class III gaming negotiations.

Most states that get into Class III gaming agreements with their federally recognized tribes require some revenue share from the expanded gaming concessions. That money is usually used to offset state regulatory costs.

In neighboring Connecticut, one of the first states to get into gaming agreements with its tribes, the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casino direct 25% of their gross revenue from slot machines to the state. They don’t share any income from table game operations. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are the two main casinos in Connecticut.

Last Updated on by Ryan

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