Gaming Deadline Holds More Than One Mystery

By this time next week, everyone interested in the Expanded Gaming horse race will know just who is holding them and who is folding them.

The deadline for getting in the casino (or slots) game is coming next Tuesday, Jan. 15th, when all applicants are expected to submit their paperwork and their $400,000 application fee to the Mass Gaming Commission (MGC).

Those who don’t are out.

Those who do are in, and they will begin a long and protracted process that is expected to last at least another year.

But it is a beginning nonetheless.

MGC Chairman Steve Crosby said last week, “The submission of Phase 1 applications from several potential developers marks another important milestone as we continue to make strides toward the arrival of expanded gaming. The Commission looks forward to receiving additional applications over the course of the next two weeks and is prepared to immediately commence the background investigations upon receipt.”

Next week, what everyone in this part of the state will be looking for is whether or not Steve Wynn submits an application and a $400,000 check for his supposed casino proposal in Everett.

Last week, the MGC told the Journal that it has met with 11 potential applicants for Scope of Licensing meetings – which look at an applicant’s key employees and investors.

One of those applicants was Wynn.

The others were MGM, Penn National, AmeriStar, Mohegan Sun, Suffolk Downs, Hard Rock, Massachusetts Gaming and Entertainment LLC, Plainridge Racecourse, Raynham Park and Clairvest.

Many of those have nothing to do with the Greater Boston casino license – including MGM, Mohegan Sun and Penn National – who are looking for licenses in Springfield and Palmer.

Others, like AmeriStar, have now dropped out of the process.

Plainridge and Raynham are only competing for the one slot machine license, and not a casino license.

Right now, Suffolk Downs is the odd-on favorite to win the Greater Boston license, but the question will be whether or not they have any competition in the process.

It seems to come down to what Wynn will do.

Will he jump in and make a serious run, or has he just been grabbing headlines while he tests the waters?

But Wynn might not be the only mystery on the list of 11.

Massachusetts Gaming and Entertainment LLC is an offshoot of Midwest Gaming and Entertainment LLC out of Chicago. It is the company of billionaire Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm. Bluhm got into the gaming industry a few years ago and has developed casinos in Mississippi, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. He is one of the few experienced, urban casino developers in the field.

He is also a major contributor and fund-raiser for President Barack Obama.

No one really knows what Bluhm’s intentions are in Massachusetts.

He won’t be competing for a casino license in the southwestern region, as it is reserved for the American Indians, and the western region is already a bit crowded with three major players in that fight.

So, the only space left is in the Greater Boston region.

Locally, he is being represented by the mega-Public Relations firm of Rasky Baerlein. Last year, according to public lobbying records, Bluhm’s company paid them $38,000 to lobby, with Jeff Terrey handling the account.

However, that basically consisted of bringing Bluhm and two other executives into town from Chicago last June, taking a $389 limo drive around Boston, and then going home.

Bluhm has apparently been looking for a good site to put a casino, but no one is exactly sure where that might be.

Another wild card in the race is Clairvest Group of Toronto, which got involved in the process late last month. That company runs casinos and racetracks all over the U.S. and Canada with a good deal of success.

Like Bluhm, if Clairvest intends to compete for a casino license, then Greater Boston is probably the only region that makes sense.

However, a report in the Boston Business Journal last week indicated that Clairvest could possibly be looking to compete with Raynham and Plainridge for the slots-only license.

The BBJ based that information on the fact that an unidentified gaming operator had contacted the Town of Milford about locating a slot parlor in that town.

Clairvest is certainly a heavyweight in the industry, and could very well see an opportunity for a casino that no one else has yet identified.

Hard Rock is the only other operator left on the list, and they had been interested in the Everett site prior to Wynn getting involved and taking a lease on the site. It is unlikely that they have any further plans in the process.

MGC Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll said they expect to have paperwork rolling in all this week, with applications and fees already in from MGM, Penn, and Plainridge. Suffolk Downs has submitted its fee, but not its paperwork.

Driscoll said those who formally apply will be identified, but their applications will not become public until after a long, exhaustive background check that could take more than six months.

The MGC has divided its application process into two phases. Next Tuesday’s deadline signifies the beginning of Phase I, Driscoll said.

Phase I will examine each applicant’s “suitability in matters related to finance and integrity,” according to the MGC.

The Phase 2 regulations are still being drawn up, but they will focus on specific site-related plans. However, those regulations aren’t expected to be released until next summer.

The MGC will proceed first with the slots-only license before embarking on the three casino licenses, which will likely push back the timetable once again for awarding the casino licenses.

The first resort casino license is expected to be awarded on or before Feb. 26, 2014 – more than a year from now.

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