The new Massachusetts Gaming Commission is still without four of its five commissioners, and the deadline for hiring them is just over three weeks away.
The commission is the authority that will review and approve applications for gambling licenses in Massachusetts — ultimately, three casinos and one slots parlor. But even though the commission members will have quite a bit of power and six-figure salaries, the jobs are turning out to be a tough sell for many potential applicants.
WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke about the challenges of the hiring process with the commission's only member so far, its chairman, Stephen Crosby.
Sacha Pfeiffer: You're not actually hiring any of the commissioners that will sit on the panel you're chairing, but you are being kept up-to-date on the hiring process, and you've approached people and recommended people for the jobs. What are you hearing from them?
Stephen Crosby: It's a contrast. On the one hand, people consider it exciting, challenging, important. On the other hand, the money is not very much. A hundred-and-twelve-thousand dollars is a lot of money for a lot of people. But if you're a person who's quite accomplished and at the high end of your professional accomplishment, which is the kind of people we want, that's not very much money.
To specify here, it will be exactly $112,500 for the four members. Your salary is $150,000 as commissioner.
Right, but even to make that point: my salary when I was dean of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston was $194,000. So even I had to take a pay cut of $43,000.
Was that a hard decision for you?
A little bit, sure. But it wasn't a devastating cut — [not] enough to make me decide I didn't want to accept this enormous challenge.
Since you yourself have had to make the decision to take a job with less pay, have you been able to use your own personal experience to persuade other people trying to decide whether to do that that they should do that?
Meaning they're not convinced?
They're not convinced, no. But it's not just the money; there's the second factor, which is the incredible scrutiny that the commissioners and our actions, and our behavior and practically our personal lives will be under.
So what is your level of concern that you may not end up getting the best people?
The pool has been a limited pool, and I think the search is taking longer than it might otherwise take. But the people that I know of, a couple of people I have nominated, people that I understand are in the finalist mix, I think are outstanding.
I can't not ask you whether you can share with us any of the potential contenders or finalists.
You can't not ask and I can't answer.
As I expected. Could you give us a sense of some of the people who have turned you down?
One was private sector, one was public sector. One woman was a woman in the nonprofit sector who runs a substantial nonprofit — not a huge one, but a substantial nonprofit — and even for her it was a cut in pay. You just have to find people who can afford it. And fortunately there are enough people. You just have to look a little harder.
And if they're fine with the money, how do you persuade them that this job is important enough that they should do it, despite the microscope they'll be under?
There are very few, if any, public policy issues that are going to be going on in Massachusetts over the course of the next number of years — probably two, three, four years — where the stakes will be as big, where the potential for corruption, where the potential for abuse, is as great, or where the potential for good in terms of job generation, probably revenue generation to the state, is as big in this as anything that we're going to see in Massachusetts.
By state law, the commissioners have to be appointed by March 21 — again, just over three weeks away. And then you have some deadlines coming up pretty quickly after that. What deadlines do you fear you may have some trouble making because of the slow hiring process?
[On] April 1, the commission is supposed to submit a report on charitable gaming in the commonwealth — bingo, for example — and I doubt very much that we will even have convened on April 1. And then the really big one is that by the end of May, the Gaming Commission is supposed to take over the Racing Commission, meaning we're supposed to be supervising the racetracks and the veterinarians who take care of the horses, and so forth. So we will have to do something. Whether we can work out some kind of a compromise or whether we talk with the Legislature about amending the legislation, I don't know for sure. But some of these dates will simply be impossible for us to make.
How daunted are you feeling right now about your new job?
Daunted is not the right word, but certainly impressed by the magnitude of what I have to learn and what we have to do.
Are you feeling excited?
I am. I'm looking forward to it. The battle about whether it's good, bad or indifferent, or whether we're going to have casino gambling in Massachusetts is over. Now we need to figure out how to do it well and how to maximize the public good and minimize the public bad. That's pretty exciting, and I'm pleased to be a part of it.
This program aired on February 27, 2012.