In the Cards

State of play in Mass. casino sweepstakes

Five months before the state gambling commission hopes to issue its first license, the Massachusetts casino sweepstakes is like a very busy craps table, with a lot of potentially confusing things happening at the same time.

Let’s slow it down for a few paragraphs, and take a measure of the process. And then I’ll give my over/under prediction for when the first resort casino will open in Massachusetts. Feel free to wager.

First a tiny bit of background:

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The 2011 casino law created one resort casino license for each of three regions of the state, as well as a license for one slot parlor that can be built anywhere. The license for the southeast region was not included in the first round of bidding, so let’s leave that one aside for the time being.

Eleven companies made the January deadline to apply for one of the available licenses. State law says each applicant must strike a deal with local officials in its host community, essentially promising to compensate the community for accepting a gambling business. Then each project must win the endorsement of the host community in a referendum.

Of the 11 original applicants, eight have signed agreements with their host communities, and either passed or scheduled do-or-die referenda seeking public approval of their projects. September will be busy with gambling votes.

Slots

The slot license will be the first to be awarded, as soon as December. All five applicants for the license have signed deals with their host communities and are facing votes over the next two months.

One added wrinkle: In addition to the ballot votes, applicants must also pass a pretty intense background check performed by professional investigators working for the gambling commission. One person going through the checks described the process to me as a “financial colonoscopy.” To the commission’s credit, these checks have already discovered a few polyps, such as the revelation that former Plainridge Racecourse President Gary Piontkowski took more than $1 million from the track’s money room in small amounts over several years.

Here are the slot applicants, where they intend to build, and the scheduled dates of their local votes:

* Rush Street Gaming, Millbury; Sept. 24 referendum. This is Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm’s company. They struck out in Worcester before striking a deal in Millbury.

*The Cordish Companies, Leominster; Sept. 24 referendum. Cordish is a Maryland firm. They struck out in a couple of places before landing in the Central Mass. birthplace of Johnny Appleseed.

Rush Street and Cordish are the only applicants to date who have passed their background checks and have been formally qualified to bid.

* Raynham Park, Raynham; Aug. 13 referendum. The former dog track is still a simulcast betting parlor.

* Plainridge Racecourse, Plainville; Sept. 10 referendum. The harness track’s new president has assured the commission that new leadership has improved internal financial controls.

The commission is expected to rule next week on whether Plainridge and Raynham have passed their background checks.

* Penn National Gaming, Tewksbury; Sept. 21 referendum. After Springfield rejected Penn’s resort casino plan, the company switched to the slot license and made a deal with Tewksbury. Penn’s background check is still underway and should be done around Aug. 22.

Greater Boston resort casino license

This probably will be the most lucrative license in the state, and it has attracted some industry heavyweights.

* Wynn Resorts signed a deal with Everett to build a resort on the Mystic River waterfront, and won a landslide vote in June. Everett voters blessed Wynn’s plans by a spread of 86.5 percent to 13.5 percent.

* Suffolk Downs, the thoroughbred track straddling the East Boston-Revere city line, is still working on its host deal with Boston, having completed an agreement with Revere. Word of a breakthrough in negotiations filtered out a few weeks ago, but talks are ongoing. There is no date for a referendum; the deal must come first. The track is pitching its casino in partnership with Caesars Entertainment.

* Foxwoods in February joined a casino proposal in Milford, and has completely revamped original plans over the past few months. But no deal yet with the town.

Background checks are ongoing on the three developers, expected to be done in August or September.

Western Massachusetts resort casino license

* MGM in July became the second applicant to survive a local referendum, after Springfield voters endorsed the company’s casino plans, 58 percent to 42 percent.

* Across the Connecticut River in West Springfield, Hard Rock International signed its deal with local officials and will face a Sept. 10 vote.

* Mohegan Sun is negotiating with Palmer, with a deal expected shortly.

As with the Greater Boston applicants, background checks are still underway, expected in August or September.

The Over/Under

The gambling commission is shooting for April 2014 to award the two resort licenses.

So when will the first gambling resort open?

My bet is November 10, 2016. It’s a Thursday, if you’re making plans.

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