Lawmakers push for expansion of Plainridge

Says table games, more slots needed to compete against Twin River


HAVING ALREADY advanced House and Senate versions of sports betting legislation, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies dedicated much of its Tuesday hearing to two other longstanding proposals to further expand casino-style gambling in Massachusetts.

The two ideas — allowing table games at the state’s lone slots parlor and allowing slots at veterans’ halls — have been proposed without gaining traction in previous sessions and the latest pushes come as Massachusetts is about to hit the 10-year anniversary of the vote to legalize casino gambling in the Bay State.

The competition between Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and two nearby Rhode Island gaming facilities for southeastern Massachusetts’ gambling dollars is nothing new and representatives from that part of the state renewed their support Tuesday for bills (H 507/H 532) to authorize but not require the Mass. Gaming Commission to allow the slots-only facility to add “up to 30 table games and an additional 250 slot machines.”

“Last session, we were concerned about the opening of the casino in Tiverton, Rhode Island, which happened two years ago. In this session, we also know that Rhode Island is planning a major expansion at Twin River. And that will put Plainridge and my communities at a further competitive disadvantage,” Rep. Jeff Roy of Franklin said. “We’re here to push for a modest expansion of Plainridge so that the commonwealth can best compete with our neighbors to the south, and we can protect the jobs, our local businesses, and the tax revenues that have been generated from Plainridge Park.”

When Massachusetts legalized casino-style gambling a decade ago, lawmakers approved a framework that includes up to three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor. Two of the three casino licenses have been issued, to MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park Casino holds the lone slots-only license.

Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs and government relations for Plainridge parent company Penn National Gaming, said his company has “understood it from day one” that it holds a slots-only license and that the license structure was intentionally set as it is.

“However, the one thing that changed that was how Rhode Island responded,” he said. Morris added that the addition of 30 table games would lead to approximately 175 new jobs at the facility.

Morris also said that the Gaming Commission would be able to determine how to address things like the difference between the one-time licensing fee of $25 million for the slots parlor and the fee of $85 million for the state’s resort casinos, and the fact that the $250 million capital investment Penn made to establish Plainridge is only half of the $500 million investment the Gaming Commission required of resort casino licensees.

Rep. Shawn Dooley told the committee that the success of Plainridge Park can serve as sort of a keystone for the region, linking entertainment venues in various towns and benefitting them all.

“What we hope, too, is as this expands it becomes even more of a regional play with shopping at the Wrentham outlets, with all the games at the stadium up the road at Gillette, I still call it Great Woods but all the concert venues and things like that right down the road in Mansfield,” he said. “And to really make this area a substantial revenue source for the commonwealth in an entertainment field.”

Also Tuesday, Kingston Rep. Kathy LaNatra testified in support of legislation (H 530) to allow a veterans’ organization to operate up to five slot machines for its members and invited guests if it secures a proposed “limited slot machine license” from the Gaming Commission.

“We had a situation here in Plymouth. The Plymouth American Legion had purchased, many years ago, five poker machines to generate revenue. They were licensed with the town and they also paid taxes for them. And then the Mass. Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission ordered the removal of machines,” LaNatra said. She added, “Since the removal of the machines, Mass. has legalized gaming and open numerous casinos as well.”

In July, when it passed a sports betting bill, the House adopted a Rep. Paul McMurtry amendment that largely mirrors the language in the bill that LaNatra pitched Thursday, except the amendment would limit the use of the machines to the organization’s members.

Under the amendment language, any veterans’ organization that operates slots machines would have to annually pay a 5 percent tax on their profits. Gross gaming revenue is taxed at a rate of 49 percent for the slots parlor at Plainridge Park and at a rate of 25 percent for MGM and Encore. The money generated by slot machines at a veterans’ organization “shall be the property of the limited slot machine licensee, and shall be used for charitable, fraternal or civic purposes, including, but not limited to, veterans’ benefits,” the amendment said.

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Rep. Jerald Parisella, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and a veteran of the Army Reserves, said he has heard from numerous veterans’ organizations about their support and enthusiasm for the bill.

“Membership is down and it’s hard for them to recruit younger veterans. I show up at meetings and sometimes I’m the young guy, you know? And I’m not exactly a teenager anymore,” he said.