BOSTON — There was a rush to meet the deadline at Massachusetts Gaming Commission headquarters Tuesday evening. Four last-minute applications were submitted, leaving a total of 11 firms submitting initial applications for a Massachusetts casino or slot parlor license.
“The Massachusetts Legislature drafted the expanded gaming act prioritizing competition as a principal value,” commission Chairman Steve Crosby said Tuesday. ”The gaming commission has vigorously carried that charge forward, resulting in a gaming competition that is robust and primed to obtain the absolute maximum benefits in job creation, economic growth, revenue and other amenities for the people of Massachusetts.”
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There’s the most competition for the license in western Massachusetts, where four developers have submitted applications for that region. MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming are interested in building in Springfield, Hard Rock is looking at the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds in West Springfield, and Mohegun Sun in Palmer.
Even before the expanded gambling law was passed last year, Mohegan Sun had a storefront set up in Palmer, so the application was a formality, says Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority CEO Mitchell Etess.
“We’re very excited to be formally, officially entered in the process although I think everybody knows we’ve been very much in this process for quite a while now,” Etess said.
In the eastern Massachusetts zone, three companies are in contention. Caesars Entertainment has joined the owners of Suffolk Downs in a bid. Just down the road, Wynn Resorts wants to build a resort-style casino in Everett. And a late entry, Crossroad Massachusetts, owned by developer David Nunes, would build in Milford.
As for the one slot parlor license, there are two bidders so far: the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville and Raynham Park, a former dog racing track.
There are also two wild card applicants: Developers from Chicago and Baltimore submitted applications without specifying where they’d build or whether they would want to open a casino or a slot parlor.
Two companies — Good Samaritan Casino Corporation and Paper City Development, in conjunction with the mayor of Chicopee — have asked for a deadline extension. The commission said it will consider that request.
The license for southeastern Massachusetts is on hold to give the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe time to get land in Taunton put into a trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior. But if they don’t get approval, the state gaming commission says it will open the license up to commercial bidders, possibly in mid-March.
The process now moves on to extensive background checks.
“It would be material issues in our judgment, in their integrity, character, financial suitability,” Chairman Crosby explained. “We have broad discretion to determine their adequacy within those criteria.”
Anti-casino groups want the commission to take a critical look at how well the bids are financed because the casino industry is under stress.
“On the face of it, if you look at Caesars Palace, they are currently $22 billion in debt but that hasn’t slowed them down for any of their developments,” said Celeste Myers, with the group No Eastie Casino. “That leaves us with further concerns that East Boston, the city of Boston, the commonwealth will be left holding the bag when Caesars Palace falls down.”
Mohegan Sun has also had financial problems. It’s $1.6 billion in debt and recently went through a refinancing and laid off 300 workers at its complex in Connecticut. CEO Etess says he doesn’t believe that will affect their Massachusetts bid.
“We’re doing pretty well right now,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments to our operation in Connecticut but so has every company around the country, so we don’t really think that’s an issue.”
The commission could certify all the applicants if they pass the background checks. Then bidders would need a host community agreement, a vote by residents and support of surrounding communities. If they pass those hurdles, they’ll remain in the competition.
The commission says it will award the single slot license first, and then the casino licenses.
This post was updated with Morning Edition feature content.