Will opportunity knock for MGM or Wynn in Massachusetts?

Dec 10, 2013 3:08 AM

The mixed sounds of anticipation and impatience are everywhere as gaming company executives peer toward the future and some looming opportunities.

Wynn Resorts senior executive Matt Maddox put it nicely during a recent conversation with financial analysts.

“The opportunities are extraordinary but the decisions are complex and we’ve got to weigh a number of factors.”

Which means what: That he does not know what the company might decide to do in Massachusetts, Florida, New York and wherever? He knows but he’s not saying?

Could it be all of the above, none of the above?

Other growth-oriented casino resort companies with access to cash and good ideas are considering their own approaches to the same enticing issues.

Who knows what will happen with online gaming opportunities and the prospect of legal casinos in Japan?

Maddox did not list all the issues but there is everything from slam-dunk opportunities to possibilities under the influence of difficult even openly hostile lawmakers and regulators. Some may have a genuine moral opposition to the business of running a casino. Others must glance at pictures to know the difference between a dice table and a slot machine.

But they know what they feel and will not let a fact or two get between themselves and their embrace of a comfortable prejudice.

There are also those regulators who are genuinely trying to do the job but just do not know how much they do not know.

Let’s not forget the not always so visible catalytic agents known as card-carrying lobbyists and the myriad members of special interest groups.

Some of them know the best place to be if your goal is to kill a casino plan may be among those writing rules and regulations.

I wonder which of these groups might have produced Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the body that is hearing presentations from MGM and Wynn Resorts this week and next.

Caesars Entertainment has already been knocked out of the casino sweepstakes there, not because the Commission or Crosby declared them to be unsuitable but because Caesars’s Boston partner the Suffolk Downs racetrack got word of several “red flags” discovered by Commission investigators who were giving Caesars a full body suitability exam.

The Suffolk Downs people invited Caesars to resign from the deal and CEO Gary Loveman who was astute enough to see where things were headed did exactly that.

The welcome mat had been yanked from beneath his feet and there was no reason to hang around. His heart and a home may be in the Boston area but his job is in Las Vegas.

What happens now?

The Wynn and MGM executives are doing all the politically correct things at the moment, taking a very yes sir and no ma’am approach. They are keeping things very low key, avoiding anything that might be mistaken for Las Vegas arrogance as they wait to see whether their respective Massachusetts casino hopes are still alive.

Because who knows what’s going on in the heads of those influences that will shape the Bay State’s formerly illegal new industry.

It’s never easy layering a new add-on, something like casinos across a mature business and social environment where existing influences have deep roots.

We will probably know in the next week or so whether MGM and Wynn with their extensive Macau interests measure up to whatever Massachusetts is looking for in “suitable” casino resort developers.

Does the state want resort products that will be major generators of tourism traffic into Massachusetts or will it settle for vanilla flavored “boxes of slots?”

After what happened to Caesars it was easy to imagine the list of suitable developers being narrowed down to some earnest – but suitable – wannabes.

Maybe that is why we were treated to last week’s op that showed Crosby at a Boston news conference, Gov. Deval Patrick at his side, Crosby protesting he had not pre-judged anyone. “Red flags” aside, who knows how he might have voted had Caesars been able to come in for a quiet little sit-down with the Commission.

But that did not happen, which may be just one of the reasons Maddox was casting what seemed like a longing look to the Far East.

“Thank goodness we’re mostly an Asian company,” he was telling the analysts. This is not going to change any time soon, whatever happens elsewhere.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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