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Opening Day For Massachusetts' First Casino

The Plainridge casino building and parking lot
NECN
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Massachusetts enters the casino era today. The state’s first gambling hall opens to the public following a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  The opportunities for people to gamble in the state are likely to grow in the years ahead.

     Plainridge Park Casino, built for $250 million at a harness racetrack in Plainville near the Rhode Island border, opens its doors to the public Wednesday afternoon with the plan to never close.  The state’s first casino is opening almost four years after the Massachusetts Legislature and former Gov. Deval Patrick legalized casino gambling ending decades of debate.

   The facility, operated by Penn National Gaming, has 1,250 gambling machines including slots and electronic blackjack, but no live table games.  There is a sports bar fronted by New England football legend Doug Flutie.

  Two larger so-called resort casinos, with hotels, restaurants, retail stores and other amenities—and table games on the gambling floor – won’t open in Springfield and Everett for at least two years.

  Casino industry expert Clyde Barrow of the University of Texas El Paso said Massachusetts will do fine with its first casino in Plainville.

  "It is strategically positioned to intercept a lot of traffic coming out of central and southeastern Massachusetts on its way to Twin River ( casino). That was the original purpose of the slots parlor."

  The new casino is projected to bring in $80 million in revenue annually to Massachusetts. It employs 600 people.

With the state’s first casino comes several first-of-their-kind approaches to curb problem gambling. Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said in the casino itself there is a responsible gaming program that includes on-site counseling for people with gambling problems.

"To help people think in terms of budgeting their gambling, keeping to a certain limit so they don't get in trouble," he said.

The gaming commission also approved a policy that allows problem gamblers to ban themselves from Massachusetts casinos for anywhere from six months to life.

   A UMass Amherst study, funded by the gaming commission, found  1.7 percent of the state’s population are problem gamblers.  National Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte said opportunities for people to gamble are growing faster than the availability of prevention and treatment programs.

  " There is a lot of ground to make up just to address the current level of disorders," he said.  "We known when you expand gambling it will increase the number of people with gambling problems, at least temporarily," he said.

   Crosby in a speech Tuesday to the Boston Chamber of Commerce predicted the arrival of casino gambling in Massachusetts will “hurt the Connecticut casinos badly.”

   Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy signed a bill into law that permits the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations to enter negotiations with communities interested in hosting a casino. The two tribes, which currently operate casinos in Connecticut, are hoping to develop a casino in the I-91 corridor to compete with the MGM Springfield resort casino.

 Mass. Governor Charlie Baker said he has confidence in the MGM project.

" There are limits to what we can control with respect to Connecticut, but I do believe the MGM proposal is a terrific one for Springfield and it is very well located to support the region," he said.

MGM broke ground in March for an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield, but is still waiting for state and local permits to begin major construction.  MGM officials Thursday are scheduled to update the gaming commission on the project timetable. 

 Springfield city officials said MGM  may be  looking to delay the scheduled September 2017 opening of the casino to await the completion of the reconstruction of  I-91.

Voters in New Bedford Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposed $650 million waterfront casino, setting up a competition with Brockton for the last available commercial casino license in Massachusetts.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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