By Dan Ring, The Republican
BOSTON — The chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Wednesday told business leaders from Western Massachusetts that it will be three to four years before casino resorts open, but that he is confident the passage of time won’t hurt the state’s ability to capitalize on casinos.
Commission chairman Stephen P. Crosby, and a second state gaming commissioner, former Springfield City Councilor Bruce Stebbins, talked to members of several chambers of commerce in the Springfield area.
Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham, the host of the event, said people expected that casinos would open a year earlier than projected by the gaming commission. Candaras said she is concerned that surrounding states, such as Maine, New York and Rhode Island, might open new or expanded casinos and achieve dominance in the market before casinos open in Massachusetts.
“People are just surprised that it will take longer than maybe we contemplated,” Candaras said.
Legislators approved casinos to generate revenues for state and local governments and to create jobs.
The state’s gaming law, passed in November, authorizes up to three casino resorts, including one for anywhere in the four counties of Western Massachusetts. The law also authorizes a slot facility that could be anywhere in the state.
Crosby said that a year’s delay will not cause any problems in terms of market share.
Crosby said it would likely take the commission one to two years to issue requests for bids, review applications and award licenses. After that, it would probably take two years for a casino to be up and running, he said.
“A year won’t make that much difference,” Crosby said.
Crosby said mistakes occur if the process is rushed.
Crosby and Stebbins were among about 10 leading state officials who spoke to chamber members during their annual “Beacon Hill Summit” at the Statehouse.
The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce were involved with the event.
The five-member commission’s job is to select, license, oversee, and regulate all casinos and the slot facility.
Crosby told chamber members to begin considering ways to create benefits from casinos including guarantees for local businesses, tourism and employment.
“Think about how you can rope them in and get their assets to work for you,” Crosby said.
Crosby said a host community can negotiate whatever it wants including payments for economic studies, improvements to infrastructure and job guarantees.
Stebbins said the commission would take into account a casino applicant’s plans for doing business with local merchants.
Under the gaming law, communities that could host a casino need to negotiate agreements with a potential operator and put that agreement before voters. In order to submit an application for a license, casinos need voter approval in a community where they plan to locate. Here is a link to the gaming law.
The law says only a vote by a potential host ward is required in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.
The law says a city’s “local governing body” can vote to opt out of the provision for only a ward vote in the three most populated cities and require a city-wide vote.
Two of the leading authors of the state’s gaming law — Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, and Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst — also attended the event and weighed in on the implications of the law.
Wagner said there is speculation in Western Massachusetts that Springfield might receive a casino proposal for the downtown to compete with an existing proposal for a casino by Ameristar Casinos of Las Vegas.
Ameristar paid $16 million in January for a 41-acre site on Page Boulevard and I-291 in Springfield, but has not released plans for a possible overhaul of roads to direct traffic to the site.
Crosby told legislators he was pleased with the gaming law. He said it provides multiple levels of law enforcement, ways to protect the state Lottery and communities that would be adjacent to a host community and powerful tools for the commission to license and oversee casinos.
“This is the best gaming legislation ever passed,” in the country,” Crosby said. “You folks did a tremendous job.”
A local casino proponent who attended the event, Anthony L. Cignoli, a partner in Paper City Development, a development group teamed up with Hard Rock International in Florida for a possible casino, said Hard Rock is still looking in Western Massachusetts and probably will select a new site for a casino.
Hard Rock and Paper City wanted to build a gambling resort on the 100-acre Wyckoff Country Club off Interstate 91 in Holyoke, but it ran into opposition from Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse.
In Palmer, the Mohegan Sun is planning a casino near Exit 8 of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Late last month, MGM Resorts International dropped out of a casino project planned for Brimfield. MGM has said it will seek an alternative site in Western Massachusetts.