Mass. Casino Reopenings On Track To Lag Connecticut Competitors

The Encore Boston Harbor Casino in Everett as seen from Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Encore Boston Harbor Casino in Everett as seen from Somerville. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As they continue to devise a plan for a safe and socially-distant reopening of the state's gambling halls, regulators at the Gaming Commission also expect to have everything they need to consider Plainridge Park Casino's license renewal before it expires in the middle of June.

Competitor casinos in Connecticut are readying themselves for a June 1 reopening. But an early July reopening is likely the best-case scenario for Massachusetts gambling centers, which have been closed since March 15 and are part of the third phase of the Baker administration's reopening plan.

The commission's interim executive director, Karen Wells, said Thursday that the commission is still reviewing the plans each licensee submitted last week and will provide detailed guidance based on the governor's reopening plan to each casino.

That guidance, she said, will be "based upon the governor's mandate, the other state and federal requirements, expert public health guidance and also lessons learned from other jurisdictions that will open before Massachusetts."

In addition to the June 1 reopenings of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — which have each published safety plans, including Mohegan Sun limiting hotel stays to Connecticut and Rhode Island residents only — the company that owns Plainridge Park Casino, Penn National Gaming, this week opened its 10 casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi, and MGM Resorts plans to reopen two casinos in Mississippi next week.

"I think that's going to be very interesting for our team to look at what positives and negatives, come out of other casino reopenings," Wells said.

With at least six weeks until Massachusetts casinos could be allowed to reopen, the commission will be working on a parallel track to complete its first-ever license renewal.

Plainridge Park Casino's five-year license expires June 24 and the company is working to complete its renewal application soon so that the information-gathering process does not get in the way of what will need to be done to get the Plainville slots parlor ready to reopen.

"They want to get this stuff to us so this does not conflict with the reopening of the facility," Construction Project Oversight Manager Joe Delaney said.

Last week, Delaney told commissioners that some of the Penn or Plainridge employees who need to sign off on certain submissions to the commission have been furloughed, complicating the effort to gather necessary information. On Thursday, he said the gaming company has given the commission a schedule it will follow for submitting the outstanding information.

"Essentially what they've done is said they're going to get things to us in two big batches of information, one on or about June 1 and then the second on or about June 15," he said. "Then that would complete all of the things we've asked for in the application."

The other half of the renewal process is an Investigations and Enforcement Bureau review of all Plainridge executives and employees the commission considers "qualifiers." All licensees and their top executives must be deemed suitable to hold a Massachusetts casino license and are required to maintain their suitability at all times.

Loretta Lillios, deputy director and chief enforcement counsel of the IEB, told the commission Thursday that "all of the suitability application materials for both the individual and entity qualifiers have been submitted."

Delaney suggested that the commission could vote at its June 18 meeting to accept the Plainridge Park Casino renewal application as "timely and sufficient," and then lay out a schedule for the commission's consideration, which will include a public hearing.

Before that, the commission could be asked to amend the list of renewal prerequisites it sent to the slots parlor earlier this year. The commission told PPC that proof of payment of the $100,000 renewal fee would be required for the commission to consider the application. Lillios said Thursday that Penn has indicated to her that it intends to ask the commission for "for some temporary relief on that."

Lillios suggested that the commission might opt to require payment upon its decision to renew the application rather than at the time of the application submission, but said Penn will have to formally request that from the commission.

Both Lillios and Delaney said that Penn and Plainridge are working hard to complete the renewal application while also dealing with a pandemic and working with limited staff. Both said they are confident that the slots parlor will complete its application before the license expires.

The gaming landscape has changed dramatically since the commission laid out its renewal process earlier this year and Plainridge has been shuttered for more than two months under the commission's order. Though the license expires June 24, as long as the Gaming Commission determines by that date that Penn has made a "timely and sufficient application for renewal," the license will remain in effect until the commission votes on the renewal, commission lawyers said.


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