Blog Goodwin Gaming April 26, 2016

On Your Mark, Get Set, Build!

It has been nearly five years since Massachusetts legalized casino gambling, but the state is still without an operating resort casino. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts are all chomping at the bit to be the first to open a resort in the promising casino market, but each has significant hurdles to overcome in order to reach the winner’s circle. Who will you be rooting for to be the first?

Despite a pending lawsuit challenging the validity of the federal government’s approval of the tribe’s land into trust application, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe broke ground at the Taunton site on April 5. Of course, there are skeptics—in addition to the plaintiffs in the previously mentioned suit—of building a tribal casino in Taunton. A basis for advocacy for Massachusetts resort casino has been that the taxable revenue will have significant economic benefits for the communities and state, but the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is not necessarily obligated to pay Massachusetts a percentage of its revenue. Under the tribal-state compact, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe does not have to pay a revenue share to Massachusetts if there is a commercial casino in the region. And that may be the case. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is deliberating whether to grant Mass Gaming & Entertainment’s proposal to build a casino in Brockton—in close proximity to the tribal casino in Taunton. In the event Mass Gaming & Entertainment wins a license to build a commercial casino, the Masphee casino may not be the money-maker lawmakers expected it to be.

As the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe resort’s name, First Light, perhaps suggests, the tribe expects its doors to open first—before MGM in Springfield or Wynn in Everett. However, First Light will open in phases. The casino will open followed by the hotel and other amenities, and expects to be completely open in 2022. MGM Resorts, on the other hand, anticipates a true grand opening when it’s ready. In a state eager to reap the benefits of a fully operational resort casino, MGM Resorts may just be the ticket. Like the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, MGM has potential regional competition in nearby Connecticut. The opening of MGM Resorts may be delayed because of highway construction and plans for a casino in Connecticut—the latter is a concern for those touting the economic benefits of opening a resort casino in Springfield.  If plans for a Connecticut casino along Interstate 91 are executed, then there will be stiff competition for MGM.

What about Wynn? Wynn Resorts is a contender in the race to open a casino-resort, but it is unlikely to open earlier than First Light or MGM. As part of its plans to open its casino on a waterfront in Everett, Wynn began a massive cleanup of the Mystic River, removing arsenic, lead, and other pollutants. However, that cleanup and plans for construction came to an abrupt halt when Somerville officials filed an appeal of Wynn’s waterfront building permit in February.