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Tim Cahill: Why the Gaming Commission Wants the Casino Law Changed

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

 

Tim Cahill, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

At only its second publicly scheduled meeting, the state's newly formed Gaming Commission has asked the legislature to go back and change the legislation under which it was chartered.  The reason for the request was to delay the commission's takeover of the state's racing commission.  By statute, the new Gaming Commission is supposed to absorb all gambling functions, except the lottery, by May 20th of this year.

So only months after it was formed, and with little staff, this new entity is supposed to take over a commission that has been functioning for generations.  All before it has its third meeting.  I believe it is wise for Chairman Steve Crosby to seek the delay.  There is already a tremendous amount of decision-making and oversight on their plate without adding more just as they are getting started.

When the legislature created the new Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2004, it gave me as Chairman, time to fix the mess that we inherited before moving on to create a new template for future school construction.  We faced many of the same challenges that this new state authority is facing today.  The only way forward is to move deliberately and seek modifications of the legislation as the need arises.  These can be in the form of technical corrections so that the entire legislation need not be affected.

The most important decisions facing the new Gaming Commission are to figure out how and where to site up to three casinos and one slot parlor.  They should not be concerned with the oversight of horse racing before they have decided the most important issues first.  Besides, there is an inherent conflict should they be forced to oversee the two race tracks before they have decided the casino issue.  Both tracks are in the running for licenses.

Being placed in charge of the Suffolk Downs and Plainridge tracks while these facilities and management teams are bidding on casino and slot parlor licenses opens the new Gaming Commission to a host of conflicts, both real and perceived.  They will be forced to work closely with the tracks and deal with the management teams at both facilities, while at the same time evaluating proposals from both tracks when they bid on the proposed licenses.

This could serve either to help or to hurt the potential bidders.  They will be answerable to their regulators for day-to-day operations of their current facilities while having to deal with the same board when it comes to the evaluation of their proposals for expanded gaming.  Other bidders who do not currently manage tracks will not have anywhere near the same access to board members or staff that the tracks will have.  This situation could lead to unintended favoritism or criticism of the tracks.  It could also lead to lawsuits filed by bidders who ultimately fail to be chosen for the coveted licenses to run full-scale casinos or a slot parlor.

Despite the best of intentions, all legislation needs to be corrected when reality intervenes.  It is wise of Chairman Crosby to seek a delay of the commission's takeover of the racetracks.  In fact, I believe that the delay should be in effect until after the casino and slot licenses have been granted.  To do otherwise will open up the commission to a whole host of conflicts and problems on top of the very real challenges that already face the board.  Sometimes progress means taking a step backwards before moving forward.

 

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