Massachusetts passes casino bill; Genting cries ‘bullshit’ at Florida hearing

massachusetts-casino-genting-florida-bullshitOn Wednesday, Massachusetts’ legislators approved their casino bill and sent it to Gov. Deval Patrick, who is expected to sign it into law within 10 days. The bill was actually approved on Tuesday, but a last minute argument over how large a percentage of gambling taxes would go into the state’s Race Horse Development Fund kept the bill in limbo until a compromise was reached and the official ‘enactment’ vote could take place. (Seriously, is there any US gambling legislation NOT held hostage by horse racing?) The bill’s passage marks the end of a long road for Patrick, who first floated the casino idea five years ago.

The bill will permit one slots parlor and up to three casinos – one each for the eastern, southeastern and western portions of the state. The southeastern casino will go to a federally recognized Indian tribe, assuming the state can secure a tribal compact before July 31, 2012. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is thought to have the inside track, as the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) waived their rights in a 1987 land deal. As for the other two casinos, bidding is expected to be fierce, even if the licenses alone will cost you $85m (the slots parlor can be had for a piddling $25m). Demonstrating their eagerness, Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos immediately announced it was purchasing a 41-acre site in Springfield for $16m. Others expected to vie for a license include Mohegan Sun, Las Vegas Sands and Caesars Entertainment.

Further down the eastern seaboard, Florida politicians held their first public workshop on the proposal to bring destination casinos to the Sunshine State. Colin Au, president of Resorts World America, the US division of Malaysian gambling colossus Genting, raised some eyebrows during his pitch to a Senate committee in Tallahassee. Genting is obviously keen to start building Resorts World Miami on its recently purchased downtown real estate, but Au’s enthusiasm caught some of the pols off guard.

Au claimed (or wildly exaggerated, as some onlookers maintained) that Florida’s three casinos would attract 4-6m annual visitors and would create (a) 50k temporary construction jobs and (b) 100k permanent jobs once the operations were completed. Questioned as to whether these casino jobs might be snapped up by workers from Atlantic City or Las Vegas, Au replied: “That’s bullshit, okay?” Despite some timid pols’ ears turning red, Au doubled down on his decorum-free style after Isle of Capri’s Don Mitchell claimed that his existing casino business would be cannibalized by the twin terrors of resort casinos and tribal gaming establishments. What say you, Mr. Au? “That’s bullshit, again. It does not take people’s lunch. It creates lunch, dinner plus breakfast for everyone.” Ladies, you gotta like a guy who’ll buy you (and everyone else) breakfast.

That is, unless you’re Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff. After the meeting, Bogdanoff suggested Au’s matter of fact speaking style might have been attributable to cultural differences. “We all kind of sometimes use language that’s inappropriate but I don’t do it (a) in a public forum or (b) in a committee meeting.” Bogdanoff also suspects that Au’s lofty job/visitor predictions may have been a case of gilding the lily, and suggested that Au “tone the rhetoric down” in future meetings. Florida’s Reg. Industries Committee is expected to consider the casino legislation in the next regular session of the legislature, which begins in March 2012.