Massachusetts okays Plainridge Park opening, lets top regulator off the hook

massachusetts-gaming-commissionLike Michael Corleone at the end of the first Godfather movie, Thursday saw the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) settle all family business.

To start, the MGC voted to issue a provisional “opening certificate” to Plainridge Park Casino, officially clearing the way for next week’s launch of Penn National Gaming’s $250m venue. The property will have a test run on Monday (22) before opening to the public on Wednesday. The slots parlor is the first of four new major gaming venues the state will welcome in coming years.

Second, the office of state Attorney General Maura Healey said it wouldn’t take any action on a protest filed by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which had challenged the legality of Plainridge’s deal with the state.

In May, the tribe accused the MGC of breaking both state law and the tribe’s gaming compact with the state by allowing electronic table games at the Plainridge facility. State law restricts Plainridge to no more than 1,250 slot machines but the MGC has allowed the venue up to 1,500 ‘gaming positions,’ which includes multi-player electronic tables offering craps, blackjack and other games.

The tribe hopes to build its own casino in neighboring Taunton and believes the Plainridge electronic tables could poach up to $30m per year from the tribal venue. In the wake of Healey’s decision, the tribe said it was “exploring its options.”

Finally, MGC chairman Stephen Crosby has been cleared of allegations of wrongdoing stemming from the awarding of the Boston-area casino license to Wynn Resorts. Crosby had recused himself from the application vetting process because of his familiarity with businessman Paul Lohnes, who owned the land on which Wynn plans to build its resort. But parties unknown accused Crosby of having “actively participated” in the process after his supposed recusal.

Crosby himself revealed the favorable decision in an email to MGC staff, saying that while it had been “profoundly discouraging to have my integrity or that of the process called into question, this development yet again substantiates our pledge to operate in a ‘participatory, transparent and fair’ manner.” The Massachusetts Ethics Commission said their inquiry had struggled with a “lack of evidence” and thus considered the matter “now closed.”