Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Time to Fold

Dealing from the bottom of the deck:

"Gambling revenue ticks up at Plainridge Park Casino" by Sean P. Murphy Globe Staff  May 16, 2016

Gambling revenue at Plainridge Park Casino ticked up almost 2 percent in April, building on gains that have brightened the financial outlook at the state’s first casino.

The Plainville slot parlor brought in $13.3 million last month, about $8,000 more a day than in March, according to an analysis released Monday by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

So far this year, Plainridge is averaging $13 million in monthly revenue, up from $12.2 million over the last four months of 2015.

“The fact that revenue is up is a good sign for Plainridge Park,” said Paul DeBole, an assistant professor of political science at Lasell College and a specialist in gambling regulation. “I’m cautiously optimistic that the upward trend will continue.”

The modest upturn, however, comes as the casino has sharply increased promotional free play, enticing gamblers with offers of hundreds of dollars of free slot machine credits. In an advertising campaign splashed on television and highway billboards, the casino invites patrons who sign up for a rewards card to “Play up to $500 on us.”

In February, Plainridge handed out $2.4 million in promotional credits, an unusually high amount for a relatively small casino.

The commission stopped publishing what Plainridge spends on free play in its monthly reports after Plainridge argued the disclosure placed it at a competitive disadvantage.

The casino will face a major new competitor next summer, when the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is scheduled to open the first phase of its First Light casino in Taunton, about a 30-minute drive from Plainridge. The $1 billion casino will feature a full array of table games and be far larger than Plainridge.

“When the Mashpee casino in Taunton opens, there could be an adverse impact on Plainridge,” DeBole said.

Plainridge already faces stiff competition from Twin River Casino, 11 miles away in Lincoln, R.I. Twin River offers more than 4,000 slot machines, table games, and a 3,000-seat arena.

Under state law, Plainridge is restricted to 1,250 slot machines and no table games.

Lance George, Plainridge’s general manager, said the casino is constantly working to improve its reach in a crowded marketplace. “We’re continuing to focus on refining our marketing efforts,” he said.

Despite the rally this spring, the casino has fallen well short of revenue forecasts, which estimated it would bring in as much as $300 million in its opening year. In its first 10 months, the casino took in $134 million, putting it on pace to collect about $161 million for the year.

The state taxes Plainridge’s gambling revenue at 49 percent, most of which goes to cities and towns. Since the casino opened last June, municipalities have received almost $54 million from casino revenue.

The state’s 2011 casino law also requires that a sizable chunk of the revenue — more than $12 million to date — subsidize the horse-racing industry.

That can take up your entire day.


What do you mean you don't know how to play?

"State panel gets primer on ‘social casino games’" by Sean P. Murphy Globe Staff  May 10, 2016

Millions of people are spending a lot of time — and money — on social games like “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” that are widely accepted as harmless pastimes, representatives of the online gaming industry told the state Gaming Commission on Tuesday.


Social casino games, which mimic slot machines and table games without allowing actual wagers, are no different, the representatives said.

Luc Delany, chief executive officer of International Social Games Association, a social gaming trade group, said he does not consider social casino games “to be gambling at all.”

People who play slots and other games online clearly understand the difference between online social gaming, a growing trend in the casino industry, and actual casino gambling, he said.

“The online casino games take their inspiration from real money games,” he said. “But we think people enjoy them because they don’t take any actual risk of losing money when they play online.”

Delany spoke at a three-hour commission meeting held to discuss social casino games, which critics say are addictive and misleading. Plainridge Park Casino, a slot parlor and the state’s first casino, offers an online slot machine that lets players win credits to make the leaderboard and open up new levels of play.

“It’s pretty clear there are some risks,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “When you simulate gambling online, whether for money or not, you can develop a gambling problem or exacerbate a problem.”

Could even wind up in court.

Whyte said the casino industry and its regulators should discuss voluntary guidelines to protect players. While it’s not clear whether online games help casinos recruit new players, gamblers who play online seem to wager more at brick-and-mortar casinos, he said.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said there is no evidence that online casino games lead to problem gambling. But Crosby said the panel had a better grasp of the subject and would invite Penn National, the owner of Plainridge Park Casino, to discuss the topic at a future meeting.

“I would like to know what Penn is doing now that we have better understanding of the issues,” Crosby said.

Representatives of Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts, which are also licensed in Massachusetts to operate casinos in Everett and Springfield, respectively, will also be invited.

Members said it is an open question whether the commission has jurisdiction over social gaming but wanted to learn more about the potential risks.

The commission scheduled the meeting after a Globe article cited concerns about online slot machines among critics of problem gambling.

I have mine, but it is with help.


Time to stop counting cards.


Plainridge Park Casino’s revenue slips back to where it was

Plainridge Casino agrees to cut odds on problem gambling

"Casinos likely to emerge as a lobbying force, experts say" by Sean P. Murphy Globe Staff  June 06, 2016

By 2018, three resort casinos are slated to open in Massachusetts, lavish developments that will create thousands of jobs and bring in hundreds of millions in new revenue for the state government.

Will they?

That’s the good news for Beacon Hill, but it comes with a catch. The casinos, each run by industry titans well-practiced at gaining political access, will have the financial might and economic clout to lobby for their interests on any number of fronts, from taxes to employment policy to transportation.

And in a highly regulated and taxed industry, they will be keenly motivated to press for legislative change, according to specialists who have studied casino lobbying in other states.

“Casinos are a force to be reckoned with in Pennsylvania and they will be in Massachusetts, too,” said Denis P. Rudd, a marketing professor at Robert Morris University, near Pittsburgh. “Casinos always want something and they let you know about it.”

Taxes are likely to be front and center.

With their deep pockets and economic influence, casinos are uniquely positioned to wield political clout, and State House lawmakers are bracing for it. State Representative Peter V. Kocot, a Northampton Democrat, said the proliferation of casinos in the Northeast will probably put pressure on lawmakers to lower the tax rate on Massachusetts casinos, though no such overtures have been made yet.

“Casinos are big international businesses and like other big businesses they are always looking to get an edge,” Kocot said. “You always have companies that want changes in the law.”

Kocot added that Wynn was well aware of the casino tax rate when he applied for a license and that there is no reason for lawmakers to reconsider it now.


Michael Pollock, president of the New Jersey-based consulting firm Spectrum Group, said casinos typically keep close tabs on broader issues, such as state funding for tourism and transportation, that have a direct impact on their bottom line.

“It’s an industry that has a huge stake in the economic well-being of the state,” he said.

The four casino companies in Massachusetts have already retained some of the state’s most sought-after lobbyists, including former governor Bill Weld and one of his former top aides, Steve Tocco, who represent Wynn Resorts, and former congressman Bill Delahunt, who represents the Mashpee. Over the past three years, the casinos spent almost $3 million on lobbying, state records show.

Can Weld still run for VP, and Delahunt didn't help the pot clinic guys.

Alan Silver, a gambling specialist at Ohio University, said casinos scouting out new opportunities usually begin by “hiring the best lobbyists and lawyers” in state capitals across the country.

“It’s a routine expense for casinos,” he said.

The casino companies in Massachusetts declined to comment on lobbying efforts. But Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Boston Harbor, pointed to the casino’s potential as an economic catalyst.

“As the budget debate continues on Beacon Hill, people from the State House to Main Street are taking note and realizing just how much the jobs, tax revenue, and local spending that Wynn Boston Harbor generates will mean,” he said....

Then why lower their taxes if they are generating so much revenue? Plenty for everybody, right?