STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 31, 2019.....Like a battlefield general reviewing troop placement ahead of a fight with a neighboring army, Rep. Jeff Roy on Wednesday held up a map and walked other lawmakers through the details of a peaceful border skirmish -- the competition between Plainridge Park Casino and two nearby Rhode Island betting facilities for southeastern Massachusetts' precious gambling dollars.
The Plainville slots parlor has been a generous employer, reliable economic development partner and good neighbor, state and local officials from the southeastern region said, but its success and the benefits that flow to the surrounding towns could be threatened if Massachusetts does not allow Plainridge Park to offer sports betting. Right now, the two Rhode Island casinos -- Twin River Casino and Tiverton Casino Hotel -- are the only places in New England to legally place sports bets.
"The blue line that you see here is the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border and here is Plainridge. Then, 10 miles is Twin River and 26 miles is Tiverton ... those were strategically placed to put those locations in direct competition with what's happening at Plainridge," Roy said as he showed the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee the borderland competition. "It not only affects what's going on at Plainridge but every other business in that area -- restaurants, hotels. So we need to respond to what's happening."
Reps. Betty Poirier, Shawn Dooley and Jay Barrows, and municipal officials from Plainville and Mansfield, joined Roy on Wednesday in testifying in favor of allowing Plainridge Park to accept bets on sporting events, if the Legislature decides to legalize wagering.
"We urge you to evaluate the issue through the prism of competition by other jurisdictions that are using sports betting to take business from Massachusetts and bring it to their state. No state has been more aggressive in this regard than Rhode Island," Plainville Selectman Brian Kelly told the committee. "We really don't think you should do it for the new money it will bring in, but we do know that how we respond now is very important to compete with a state that is doing everything it can to interfere with our success. It's very important for us and for you to protect that."
Committee co-chair Ann-Margaret Ferrante noted that the group of officials was "one of the first groups that has come up and said primarily you'd like to see this bill passed as a defensive measure to counter the actions of the rest of the competition on the Rhode Island and Connecticut border as opposed to just simply for the potential revenue it could bring to the commonwealth."
Dooley, from Norfolk, said the situation is particularly worrisome for the entire area because so many of the region's attractions -- Xfinity Center in Mansfield, the Wrentham Outlets, TPC Boston in Norton, Patriot Place in Foxborough and others -- tie into and rely on each other.
"Plainridge is actively being cannibalized now and it doesn't just hurt Plainridge," he said. "As the entertainment dollars go down south, it hurts Patriot Place, it hurts our outlets, it hurts our area restaurants because we really do work as a region."
The legislators said they would not oppose mobile or online sports betting as long as Plainridge Park can also take bets in person. They said it is important that the slots facility be able to offer the same range of offerings as in Rhode Island.
"For one spot to have only slots and 10 minutes down the road they have slots, a sportsbook, table games and everything you can imagine, it makes that a much more desirable location," Dooley said.
Though the situation is slightly different, MGM Springfield also has its eye on a neighboring state. Mike Mathis, president and COO of MGM Springfield, told the Economic Development Committee this week that there is a sense of urgency to Massachusetts legalizing sports betting -- and allowing its licensed casinos to take bets -- because Connecticut is also pursuing an expansion of gambling.
"They've been very competitive with us all the way up to the proposed satellite site in East Windsor," Mathis said, referring to a joint proposal from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to build a small casino just 12 miles away from MGM Springfield. "If they're able to add sports betting throughout the state and at their resorts, it's just one more amenity that makes them that much more competitive and in this case, we don't have any kind of balance. It could be a distinguishing factor for a customer who makes a decision to go or not go to one of the resorts."
Mathis said it is important for Massachusetts to not just match Connecticut, but to beat the Nutmeg State to the punch "because it's difficult to pull customers out of existing operations to win that loyalty from existing operators."
He said MGM has seen a five to ten percent increase in total visitation at its casinos when it introduces sports betting. He said that an increase in foot traffic benefits not only the gaming floor but also the restaurants and retail shops in the casinos.
"So the potential swing, if they're able to get it and we're not, is 10 to 20 percent, and that's extremely meaningful," Mathis said. "It means jobs for Springfield, it means tax revenue at 25 percent for the state ... it's a really crucial issue."
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