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Study: 7 million Massachusetts residents flock to Connecticut casinos

BOSTON – As state lawmakers heard arguments for and against expanding gaming in Massachusetts, two related issues intersected the debate: Gov. Deval Patrick announced additional budget cuts to close a $600 million revenue gap in the state’s $27 billion budget, and the latest gaming survey reported that state residents have been flocking to Connecticut’s resort casinos, preferring to travel more than an hour to enjoy the full range of resort offerings rather than visit Rhode Island’s closer, but unadorned, slot parlors.

Dr. Clyde Barrow, director of the University of Massachusetts DartmouthCenter for Policy Analysis, presented results from his latest report, “Playing the Odds II: Who Gambles at New England’s Casinos and Racinos?” to the legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Oct. 29.

Mashpee Wampanoag chairman testified at Mass. gaming hearing

Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell told the state legislature’s Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies that the tribal nation supports a proposal for three resort casinos in the state and plans to open one of them. “As the leader of a sovereign nation, I would like to share our plans to provide the economic opportunities that our tribal members need to break the cycle of poverty. As part of a larger economic development strategy, our tribe intends to build and operate a resort-style gaming facility in the town of Middleboro, providing good jobs to tribal members as well as our neighbors in Middleboro and Southeastern Massachusetts. And the profits will stay right here in Massachusetts – providing for housing, education and health care for our people as well as the diversification of our economic development strategy so that we may better provide for our people.” The committee held the Oct. 29 hearing to consider a proposal to expand gaming in the state by allowing slot machines at existing race tracks and licensing up to three resort casinos. In introducing himself to the legislators, Cromwell provided a brief history lesson and reminder about the first contact between their European ancestors and those of the Wampanoag people. Cromwell said he is a direct descendant of Massasoit, the Wampanoag sachem who greeted the Pilgrims, and whose image appears on the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition to being citizens of the sovereign nation, Cromwell said, Mashpee members are also “good citizens” of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “After inhabiting present-day Massachusetts for thousands of years, our ancestors greeted explorers from Europe, resulting in the decimation of our people by foreign disease. Despite this, our ancestors assisted the Pilgrims to survive their first harsh winters here. We treated them with respect and human dignity and expected the same in return.” Like most eastern seaboard nations, the Mashpee Wampanoags’ land was stripped from them in the years after 1620 as colonial, state and federal governments not only took Mashpee territory on Cape Cod and the main land, but also tried to dislocate the people from their ancestral homeland. “We refused to do that. Through perseverance, we stayed in our homeland, a strong tribal community, increasingly surrounded by other peoples.” Mashpee finally gained federal acknowledgment in 2007, but almost 400 years of colonialism has left its mark, Cromwell said. “Today, many members of our tribe are unable to find housing in our ancestral lands – one of the most expensive markets in the country. Unemployment is high. We struggle with the many health issues that go along with high rates of poverty – heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, teenage pregnancy and substance abuse. Many of our tribal members rely on state assistance – through unemployment insurance, transitional assistance, Mass Health, and other programs – just to survive,” he said. The nation has an application before the BIA to take 140 acres in the town of Mashpee and 539 acres of land in Middleboro into trust as the nation’s initial reservation. Cromwell said he is confident that will happen, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision last February that the Interior secretary does not have the authority to take land into trust for Indian nations not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed. “We are very encouraged by legislation introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House to resolve this situation and potential opportunities to fix this administratively,” Cromwell said. Once the land is placed into trust, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will have the right to own and operate gaming facilities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Despite the onset of the recession, Barrow said, Bay Staters in 2008 made more than six million visits to Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casinos, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and to Mohegan Sun, owned by the Mohegan Tribe; about one million visits to Rhode Island’s Twin River and Newport Grand slot parlors; and less than 10,000 visits to Maine’s Hollywood Slots.

“Thus, Bay Staters showed an overwhelming preference for Connecticut’s resort casinos, with 86 percent of their total gaming-related visitations going to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. As with previous surveys, 76 percent of all New Englanders, including Massachusetts residents, who visited Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun report that they do not visit Twin River or Newport Grand, despite the closer proximity of those facilities to most residents,” Barrow told legislators.

The hearing included gaming proponents and opponents, who expressed opinions on a proposal to expand gaming in the state by allowing slot machines at existing race tracks and licensing up to three resort casinos.

Witnesses presented arguments that are now common to such hearings: Proponents said the casinos would bring needed jobs and revenues to the state; opponents said casinos would bring an increase in crime and gaming addiction and hurt small local businesses.

Legislators in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly against the same casino proposal last year, but former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a hard-line casino opponent who led that effort, is out of office and under indictment on several federal charges, including conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud and wire fraud.

The new House Speaker Robert DeLeo, supports gaming expansion and, backed by the governor and Senate president, has promised a gaming bill for consideration early next year.

Barrow’s latest study interviewed 3,981 New England residents, including 1,256 from Massachusetts, from Dec. 20, 2008 through March 13, 2009, measuring their socio-economic demographics, as well as their attitudes toward the gaming and non-gaming amenities offered by the region’s resort casinos and slot parlors.

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Massachusetts residents were “willing to travel 60 minutes or more – bypassing Rhode Island’s slot parlors – to take advantage of additional gaming options, such as table games, non-gaming and entertainment amenities, and because of the more appealing general atmosphere and physical attractiveness of resort casino.”

In a survey issued last March, Barrow reported Massachusetts residents spent about $920 million in Connecticut and Rhode Island gaming facilities last year – $709 million at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, $211 million at the slot parlors in Rhode Island, and $600,000 at the slot parlor in Maine.

Barrow’s survey found a large majority – 60 percent – of Massachusetts residents participate in some form of legal gambling.

“The most frequent form of gambling among the Commonwealth’s residents is the state lottery, including both scratch tickets (46 percent) and lotto games (45 percent), with casino gambling already ranking as the third most prevalent form of gambling among the state’s residents,” the survey shows.

In 2008, around 29 percent of Massachusetts residents gambled at a casino at least once, with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun ranking as the top two destinations.

Foxwoods was their favorite destination with more than 1.1 million – nearly one out of every four adults – visiting Foxwoods an average of 3.3 times each, accounting for more than 3.7 million visits.

By contrast, more than 850,000 Massachusetts residents – nearly one out of every five adults – visited Mohegan Sun an average of 2.7 times each last year, accounting for nearly 2.3 million visits.

About 85 percent of Foxwoods and 78 percent of Mohegan Sun visitors said they spent money on gaming, while 15 and 22 percent, respectively, said they didn’t spend money on gaming, but instead spent money on non-gaming amenities, such as lodging, dining, shopping, concerts and entertainment, golf and spa services.

More than 57 percent of Massachusetts residents answered “yes” to the questions, “Should the state legislature authorize two or more resort casinos in Massachusetts?”

Representatives of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which intends to open a resort casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in Middleborough, and the Mohegan Tribe, which wants to build a commercial resort casino in Palmer across from Exit 8 on the Massachusetts Turnpike, attended the hearing.