Conn. Casinos Keep Competition at Bay

Mar 25, 2008 6:00 PM

Native Niche by By GT Staff | The tribal casinos in Connecticut probably breathed a sigh of relief last week as the Massachusetts legislature effectively tabled a bill that would bring casinos to the Bay State, thus ensuring Foxwoods’ and Mohegan Sun’s stranglehold on gaming in the greater New England area.

That stranglehold has been a lucrative one for Connecticut casinos. Last year, Massachusetts residents spent $1.1 billion at Connecticut casinos and Rhode Island slot parlors, generating more than $233 million in tax revenues for those states.

According to a new study by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Bay State citizens spent $846 million at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and $195 million at Twin River and Newport Grand in Rhode Island in 2007.

The fifth annual study says Massachusetts residents made more than eight million visits to gambling facilities in other New England states in 2007.

"Massachusetts patronage of Connecticut and Rhode Island gaming venues remains strong and resilient," said Dr. Clyde W. Barrow, author of the report and director of the university’s Center for Policy Analysis.

Barrow added that the center found that "Massachusetts visitations and spending are responsible for creating about 6,500 jobs at the Connecticut casinos and Rhode Island slot parlors.

"It’s an extraordinary indication of Massachusetts residents’ fervor for gaming-related entertainment, hospitality and tourism in a $5 billion New England gaming market that still has about $2 billion in untapped demand outstanding," Barrow said.

Those are among the reasons why Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has pushed so hard for his proposal to license three resort-style casinos in Massachusetts.

But, even though the issue of state-sponsored casinos has been put off for at least a year in Massachusetts, a tribal mega casino is still being planned for Middleborough. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is federally recognized and plans to pursue a casino there.

The tribe was willing to work within the constraints of the just-defeated legislation. Now it will set its own agenda.

The tribe’s reservation is on Cape Cod, but the likely location for a resort would be Middleborough, a town just north of the Cape in southeast Massachusetts where the tribe has purchased land. The proposal faces strong local opposition.

Even if the casino proceeds as planned, both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun will have completed their current expansions in an effort to cement their reputations as New England’s premiere casino resort destinations.

In Middleborough, there is already local opposition to a tribal casino, especially when it was revealed that the project would include a high-rise hotel – anywhere from 15 to 18 stories tall, according to plans released last week.

The 1,000-room hotel would be built adjacent to the 3-4 story casino, according to plans.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has filed an application to place 539 acres near Route 44 into federal trust. The tribe and its investors are planning a $1 billion resort casino complex there, complete with a 240,000-square-foot casino, a multi-level parking garage, an 18-hole golf course and the hotel.

If and when Massachusetts finally enables casino gaming, neighboring states will have increased their presence in the market.

The owners of the 11 casinos in Atlantic City are making $9 billion in investments to their properties while two more resort projects are in various phases of development.

Pennsylvania now has six casinos and/or racinos, and that number is likely to double in the next five years.

New York has more than 13,000 slots (video lottery terminals) at eight racinos and three tribal casinos.

"The growing competition in the Northeastern gaming market is restructuring that market geographically, but it is also leading to an overall increase in the size of the gaming market, new capital investment in new facilities and the improvement of existing facilities," the Barrow report said. "Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are now the only three states among the nine New England/Mid-Atlantic states with no presence in the casino/racino gaming industry, although their residents continue to patronize gaming establishments in other states."