Connecticut Should Go to School on Massachusetts Slots Casino Flop

So Connecticut is in danger of losing gamblers (and ostensibly jobs) to the shiny, new casino resort in Springfield when it opens. What to do? Build a smaller, slots-based casino in the I-91 corridor to stave off the gaming exodus to the north, right? Well, if Massachusetts’ own experience is any indication, there is a decent chance that strategy won’t work.

There are so many subplots in the “casino wars” that the very basic, big picture situation can get lost. MGM in Springfield made major adjustments to its plan; the Wynn resort outside Boston is moving forward albeit very slowly; the process of siting a third Connecticut casino is already delayed; and there is serious question as to whether the Connecticut law opening the door to the third development is even legal.

However, the fundamental question of whether a third casino will even do what it’s designed to do–stop Connecticut gamblers from going to Springfield—has not been answered. And if may not be until the third facility is up and running.

Massachusetts, ironically, tried the same thing and so far, it has rolled (an electronic) snake eyes.

Massachusetts gaming officials decided the state was losing gambling business to the Twin River Resort Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Twin River made some major investments to upgrade the site to a real, big time casino. It was poaching gamblers from Massachusetts.

Massachusetts thought it would stop the gaming bleeding by siting a smaller, slots-based casino in Plainville, Mass. Plainridge Park opened earlier this year to much fanfare. It’s big, HD video screens beckoning players into the vast floor. Restaurants and a small arena were added. News stories about the opening cited huge crowds on the floor and big business at the slots and video games.

It didn’t last long at all. Turns out, a smaller, slots casino does not ultimately stop gamblers from still going to the bigger venue in Rhode Island. The novelty wore off quickly. Revenues at Plainridge continue to drop, pretty much freaking out state officials who were counting on a certain revenue stream from Plainridge under the state law that allowed casino gambling. The numbers are so bad, the Boston Sunday Globe ran a very bleak feature on Plainridge last weekend.

The (empty) Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MA.

The (empty) Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MA.

Connecticut seems poised to possibly make the same mistake. Assuming the state can get past the lawsuit that challenges the virtual monopoly the state legislature handed the two federally recognized Indian tribes to develop the I-91 corridor facility (and that’s no easy assumption), will a third Connecticut casino really stop gamblers from heading to Springfield? The Plainridge experience suggests the answer is no.

The two-tribe partnership has already pushed off its decision on where they want to put the third casino as towns in the area and apparently Hartford position themselves to win the bid.

(Building a casino—or anything—in Hartford seems to spell trouble. Just take a look at the soccer stadium refurbish and the construction of the minor league baseball stadium. They are already a mess).

When the new General Assembly is sworn in after the New Year, it would do well to carefully consider whether a third Connecticut casino would actually stop folks from going to Springfield or be a flop ala Plainridge.

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