PLAINVILLE, Mass. (AP) — Massachusetts jumped into the casino game Wednesday as the state’s first slots parlor opened for business to a large and eager crowd of gamblers.
Hundreds of special guests cheered as Plainridge Park Casino officials and state gambling regulators cut a ceremonial ribbon held by two women dressed like Las Vegas showgirls.
“It’s showtime!” state Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby declared, calling it a “momentous” day for Massachusetts, which became the 40th state to offer casino gambling.
Less than two hours later, hundreds of paying customers streamed into the casino as the doors opened for business. The crowds swelled as the afternoon wore on: a line of cars waiting to enter the casino grounds stretched onto the main road and nearly every gambling machine appeared occupied at one point.
“This is a really nice place but it’s long overdue,” said Rick Krupnick, of Lakeville, as he surveyed the noisy casino floor Wednesday afternoon. “Massachusetts has been lagging way behind with gambling.”
State leaders have high hopes for the $250 million slot parlor, which features 1,250 gambling machines.
Plainridge is projected to generate about $200 million in gambling revenues in its first full year of operation. About $98 million will go the state. The casino has also pledged to pay the town of Plainville at least $2.3 million annually, on top of $1.5 million in property taxes.
“It’s never easy being the first operator in a new jurisdiction,” remarked Tim Wilmott, CEO of Penn National Gaming, the Pennsylvania-based casino operator that developed the facility.
Located near the Rhode Island border, Plainridge is expected to draw Massachusetts residents who would otherwise travel to Twin River Casino in nearby Lincoln, Rhode Island, or the two Indian tribe-run casinos in Connecticut — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
It’s emblematic of the state of the Northeast casino market: More and more casinos are opening in a market that some industry experts believe is reaching its saturation point.
“Gaming is becoming local, and it will grow because of the convenience factor,” observes Steven Norton, an Illinois-based gambling consultant. “The recent Northeast expansions have actually increased overall casino revenues, but have diminished wins at existing facilities.”
Boston resident Doc Palmer, a regular at Twin River, is among the gamblers Massachusetts casinos hope to woo from out-of-state rivals. “I go where the money is. They pay out good at Twin River. If they pay out better here, I’ll come here,” he said.
Penn National Gaming officials have pushed back at the notion that Plainridge is simply a “slots parlor.” Few of the facility’s flashy machines resemble the old-time slot machines fed by quarters and activated by the pull of a lever. There are even electronic versions of blackjack and roulette that try and mimic the feel of those table games.
At the same time, the gambling house, which operates essentially around-the-clock, does not offer traditional table games managed by a live dealer, a point that some gamblers on Wednesday lamented. There’s also no smoking allowed inside and last call for alcohol is 1 a.m.
Alan Woinski, a New Jersey-based gambling consultant, said the launch of two larger, Vegas-style resorts in Massachusetts will be the real test in New England’s rapidly escalating casino arms race.
Indeed, Connecticut lawmakers have already passed a bill allowing the Indian tribes that operate Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to seek proposals to develop a satellite casino along the Massachusetts border to directly compete with an $800 million resort MGM is building in Springfield. Wynn Resorts is also building a $1.7 billion casino in the Boston area.
“Our view here has been that Penn will get a very strong return from Plainridge, Twin River will see a modest impact and Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods will continue their downward spirals,” he said. “In short, it will probably grow the market by a modest portion overall.”
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