May 4, 2012 | last updated May 4, 2012 11:27 am

Experts Tell Mass. Gaming Panel What To Expect

Frank Fahrenkopf grew up in Reno, Nev., and says he remembers when casinos provided table games for the men and the slot machines were set up in back for their wives.

"The world has changed dramatically, particularly as slot machines have spread in popularity," Fahrenkopf, the head of the American Gaming Association, a top lobbying group, said Thursday at an educational forum set up by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Fahrenkopf offered a national and international perspective as the commission, in its fifth week of operation, wades into setting up a regulatory and licensing structure for the gambling industry.

Gaming commissioners also heard from experts tied to casino commissions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with one former commission chair saying there is little that can be done to save local businesses near a sprawling casino resort and another addressing adherence to the Open Meeting Law.

According to Fahrenkopf's presentation, there are 566 commercial casinos in 22 states, and the commercial casino industry supported $125 billion in spending and 875,000 jobs in 2010. There are tribal casinos in 38 states, putting many Americans "within easy driving distance" of a casino, he said.

Compared with Nevada and New Jersey, which introduced gaming in 1931 and 1978, respectively, the Bay State is in the "unique and enviable position" to craft regulations from the ground up, Fahrenkopf said at the forum, which all five commission members attended at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

"You can start fresh and incorporate most of the changes your peers have implemented," Fahrenkopf said, such as allowing casino licensees to video-conference instead of personally showing up for the meeting.

"This is an industry that needs regulation and wants regulation," he added.

Pointing to the global nature of the casino industry, he noted that he is leaving in a week to go to Macau, where a global gaming expo is held every spring.

Fahrenkopf said he has also been in almost every state with gambling and heard from industry critics. "The claims are out there: There are people who are professional opponents."

Fahrenkopf said polling over 20 years shows 85 percent of Americans have no issue with gaming. A "hard core" 15 percent are opposed to all forms of gaming, most of the opposition coming because of religious faith, he said.

"Follow the rule and suggestion of my old boss, Ronald Reagan," he said, referring to his time as chairman of the national Republican Party during the Reagan presidency. "Remember what he said: Trust but verify. Listen to both sides but verify."

Fahrenkopf said national pollster Peter Hart recently polled elected officials and community leaders involved with gambling, with the exception of those in Nevada and New Jersey, and 83 percent say the introduction of casinos has "met or exceeded their expectations." The same amount says the overall impact of casinos has been positive, he added.

Fahrenkopf, whose organization founded in 1996 the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which funds scientific research on problem gambling, said compulsive gambling has held steady at 1 percent of American adults during the past three decades.

A "state of the states" report from his organization, with some of the polling, will be released next week.

The educational forum also included panels with experts who carried warnings of what to expect.

Steven Perskie, former chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, noted the Bay State's casino law requires applicants to pledge a $500 million investment in a casino. That means it will have nightclubs, bars, restaurants and convention space, he said.

"The delicatessen down the street is going to go out of business," he said. "The nightclub around the corner is going to go out of business. Don't have any illusions about that."

Diane Legriede, a former New Jersey casino control commissioner, disagreed, saying if a deli is creative enough, it can supply the casino workers or the conventions that come to the area. "It really depends on their business acumen," she said. "It's a new opportunity for new businesses to develop in these locations."

Guy Michael, former deputy director of the New Jersey division of gaming enforcement, said Louisiana initially banned restaurants in a casino. But that didn't work he said, since people went to dinner and they didn't return to the gaming facility. "That law has since been changed," he said.

Asked by Stephen Crosby, the Massachusetts commission's chair, about how much of casino revenues come from compulsive gambling, Perskie said he has not seen data to that effect.

Addressing underage gambling, Perskie said "mistakes get made" and an employee may not be watching while a random teenager is playing a slot machine. "I would suggest to you even though they are mistakes, the commission should have a very strict policy in dealing with that," he said. "Even if it's a mistake, a significant and very visible sanctioning system should be in place and consistently and immediately utilized so the message is very clear."

The state's Open Meeting law was another topic. Under the law, majority of members of a public body meeting for discussion requires 48 hours public notice.

Perskie said he was not familiar with the Massachusetts law, but called its effect on the commission a "difficulty."

He urged commissioners to communicate consistent with the statute. "It can be done," he said.

Legriede recalled when she was sitting in her office, speaking socially with one commissioner, and a third commissioner came in. "I thought the [commission's] lawyer was going to have a heart attack," she said.


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