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April 1, 2013

Slots Parlor Not The Best Fit For Downtown Worcester

Worcester is now officially among the contenders in the still-unfolding battle for the state's lone slots parlor license. It's a battle that the applicant, Mass Gaming & Entertainment, can win should it secure the approval of the state's gaming commission and win a ballot referendum. A slots parlor, combined with a hotel, would indeed be a more robust development than just a standalone gambling site.

But no matter where one stands on the growth of legalized gambling in Massachusetts, look at the proposal through this lens: Will it help the city and the region's economy, and complement Worcester's ongoing downtown revitalization efforts?

The balance sheet on a project like this has its pluses and minuses. There is no doubt that it will be a job creator — about 600, the developer claims. While that's a welcome plus, there's a lot on the liability side that weighs heavily on whether this project would be in the best interests of the city or Central Massachusetts.

A recent report by the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth yielded telling numbers on how and where New Englanders gamble. The center's 4th annual New England Gaming Behavior Survey offered evidence that most slot parlor patrons tend to live closer to those facilities as opposed to driving from more than an hour away. A slots parlor does not have the amenities that make it a destination like the larger resort casinos. The report offered the following findings to contrast gamblers' attitudes toward the two primary types of gaming facilities — resort casinos such as Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and slots parlors such as Twin River in Lincoln, RI:

• About 70 percent of visitors to Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun traveled more than an hour to reach either site;

• About 89 percent of Twin River visitors traveled an hour or less, while 68 percent traveled 30 minutes or less.

Convenience is clearly a primary factor to get gamblers to drop in their coins and pull the levers at a slots parlor. Does Central Massachusetts receive tangible benefits if the vast majority of the people throwing their money at the slots are from city neighborhoods and surrounding towns? We think not.

What also gives us pause about the Worcester proposal — as well as others across the Bay State — is the growing saturation of the gaming market in the Northeast. The openings of the Connecticut casinos in the 1990s served as New England's debut in the resort casino industry and drew gamblers from near and far. But as other states have entered the gaming business, aiming to grab some of the extra revenue Connecticut has enjoyed over the last 20 years, the pie has not grown enough to produce the volume or margins from those early days. Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island and Maine have jumped into the ring; Massachusetts is gearing up, and New Hampshire, feeling left out, is engaged in serious conversation in its legislature about gambling.

Even worse for the industry is what's taking place in Atlantic City, N.J., which opened the East Coast to casino gambling in the 1970s. Last week, that city's newest casino filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, less than a year after it opened.

Because Worcester's downtown area seems to have a demand, at least according to some, for more hotel rooms, we would generally welcome the development of a hotel that would be part of Mass Gaming's plan. But Worcester has invested much effort and capital in bringing a better mix of business that can provide a long-term lift to the downtown area: offices, education, health care, retail and the arts. From what we know today, the current combination of existing projects provides better potential for strong — and lasting — economic growth than a slots parlor.

Read more

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Report Frowns On Slots In Worcester

Mass Gaming Announces Site For Worcester Slots

Gaming Developer To Meet With Worcester Councilors

Public Hearing Set For Worcester Slots

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