The state Gaming Commission declined Thursday to make a definitive decision any time soon about its two-casino quandary in southeastern Massachusetts.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe received a needed federal approval last week, giving the tribe sovereignty over hundreds of acres of land. The decision made it all the more likely it would open a casino in Taunton. A tribal casino would not need a state license to open, and would be located just 30 minutes away from a Brockton site where applicants are vying for the region’s sole casino license.
That possibility has brought new urgency to a question the commission long knew it could face: Should it go forward with licensing a commercial casino, opening up the very real possibility that there would be two casinos in the same region?
Even before the federal decision was made, Mass Gaming & Entertainment, the applicant in Brockton, had asked the commission to promise it would issue a casino license in the region regardless of what happened with the tribe.
Commissioners unanimously agreed Thursday to make no such declaration, instead saying they would stay the course in the licensing process.
Staying the course means a final decision on whether to license Mass Gaming & Entertainment by early March, if things go according to schedule. The tribal news would serve as a major consideration during that decision-making process, commissioners said.
“That will be one of the things we will weigh,” commission chairman Stephen Crosby said.
Crosby said the commission always knew that the tribal casino could complicate the licensing process in the region. And it has cautioned throughout the process that it could opt not to issue a license in the region.
“We knew it was coming, might be coming, any time,” Crosby said of the federal decision.
Commissioner James McHugh said a number of factors will need to be considered, including the effect to state coffers if both casinos opened. The tribe has agreed to pay the state 17 percent of its gaming revenue if it is the only casino in the region, but would pay nothing if another casino opened in southeastern Massachusetts. The Brockton applicant would need to pay 25 percent regardless.
Casino experts told Boston.com earlier this week such a scenario would represent a major advantage for the tribal casino, which could ultimately affect the state’s gaming earnings.
McHugh added that he would also want to review the likelihood that two casinos could mean more jobs in the state. Crosby said commissioners also need to consider the possibility that the tribe could be delayed from opening by lawsuits.
Mass Gaming & Entertainment said following the commission’s meeting that it would still pursue the license.
“We intend to make a strong case for why our proposed casino resort in Brockton is in the best interests of the Commonwealth,” the company said in a statement.
The southeast is the last of the state’s three regions to issue a resort casino license. In the Greater Boston area, Wynn Resorts plans to open a casino in Everett. In Western Massachusetts, MGM Resorts is licensed to open in Springfield. The state’s lone slots parlor license belongs to Penn National Gaming, which opened its Plainville venue in June.