Playing it too slow Leaders take exception to timeline that could extend licensing to 2014

Commissioners at the Mass Gaming Commission discuss the ins and outs of choosing an executive director during their weekly meeting last Thursday in Boston. Local leaders believe the Commission’s timeline for licensing to be very long and very disappointing.

At a critical point during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was confounded as to why his top general was sitting idle and allowing the Confederate Army to gather steam and poke holes in the Union Army.

The more Lincoln wondered, inquired and worried about the general’s inaction, the more the general seemed to do everything but take action – despite having all the momentum and advantages going his way.

It prompted Lincoln to tell his cabinet that the general “had a case of the slows.”

As local leaders and the ranks of the local unemployed wait for action on casino developments from the state Gaming Commission (MGC), many of them are wondering if that Commission, like the general, also has a case of “the slows” in attacking the jobs and revenues almost certain to come with casino developments. Those sentiments were brought public last week and this week when the Commission released a preliminary timeline for reviewing casino applications – a timeline that put licensing decisions as far out as the end of 2014.

The timeline – which was specified as a very preliminary guide – indicated that casino applications would be available by mid-November in a document called an RFA-1. Bidders can submit that document from January to May 2013, with a three to six month pre-qualification screening to take place between April and November 2013. Those who are successfully pre-qualified would be able to respond to a second application process, called an RFA-2. From July 2013 to May 2014, bidders can submit their RFA-2 applications – along with completed mitigation packages and approved referendum votes. The MGC would make a final review between October 2013 and November 2014, awarding licenses to successful bidders at some point during that time frame – of course – if all goes according to schedule.

To some, that sounded reasonable, but to others it sounded exactly like what they hoped wouldn’t happen to the casino bill – that it would get choked in minutiae and detail.

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash this week was put off by the lengthy process and multiple reviews spelled out in last week’s timeline.

“I’m very disappointed in the length of the timeline that has been described,” said Ash, who has been a statewide leader for years in advocating for expanded gaming. “We have far too many people out of work and looking forward to the opportunity to work on the construction and in the gaming facilities, and every month we wait is another month that we’re exporting tax revenues to other states. I’m sure the Gaming Commission feels like it is working expeditiously, but they need to pick up the pace and put into place the regulations that many of us have been anticipating for years.”

Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo joined him in suggesting that, perhaps, the balance is out of whack.

“The Gaming Commission has an obligation to do their due diligence – I understand that,” said Rizzo. “They also have an obligation to follow the legislation that was created and recognize the Commonwealth’s need for jobs and revenue.”

Revere’s Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta – whose ward will host the casino in a closer way that perhaps any other area – said people are hurting and they need the jobs that are believed to come with casinos.

“This was supposed to be a jobs bill,” exclaimed Penta. “People are still out of work and hurting and losing their homes. I don’t know what they’re waiting on. This is supposed to get the economy going now. People shouldn’t have to wait and wait anxiously to see this issue come to bear. People on both sides of the casino issue are anxious to vote on it and get it over and they deserve that. For them to come out and start talking about 2014 is really unacceptable to me. They work a 40-hour week on this and they don’t make chump change. What are they doing?”

However, some local lawmakers and unions had a more cautious reaction publicly to the announcement of the timeline.

“As the Commission points out in the document, ‘the timeline is highly tentative,’” said Seth Gitell, a spokesman for House Speaker Bob DeLeo. “Accordingly, it is possible that it may move more quickly than the timeline suggests.”

East Boston State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli – who helped craft the expanded gaming legislation – said he understands frustrations with the length of the reviews, but he also said he never expected anything to happen quickly.

“Once the law got passed, there was an expectation that everything would come fast,” he said. “I never expected that. Current workers at the track and those who want to go to a job fair for the casino, I get their frustrations. But this has never been something that could happen at the snap of a finger…In my opinion, it’s better to take a little more time and dot all the ‘I’s’ and cross the ‘T’s’ and get it right.”

Officials at Suffolk Downs expressed no real opinion, and said only that they would be ready when the Commission is ready.

“Suffolk Downs will continue to do everything it can to be ready to create jobs, to invest in local business partnerships and local road improvements and to work with our host communities so that as soon as the Commission is ready to accept applications, we are ready to go,” said Suffolk official Chip Tuttle.

The Commission defended itself in comments to the newspaper last week, saying they have literally started from the ground up in implementing a new framework.

“The Commission is aggressively moving forward with the licensing process, but must balance attention to detail with a sense of urgency,” said MGC Spokesperson Elaine Driscoll. “The task before the Commission is significant and as we complete our fourth month of existence, there has been considerable and tangible weekly progress. We share everyone’s desire to quickly maximize job creation and amplify revenue to the Commonwealth. As the timeline indicated, it is possible that the Commission will issue gaming licenses as soon as October 2013. The Commission developed the pre-qualification process in an effort to move the process along more quickly and potential casino developers may begin paying their license application fees as soon as August 2012.”

Driscoll noted that the Commission has proposed sweeping regulatory changes for the racing industry, that they’ve hosted several education forums across the state, that they are aggressively seeking candidates to fill necessary jobs at the MGC, and that they’ve established a way for bidders to submit partial application fees as soon as Aug. 8th.

That, of course, is only a short list of accomplishments and initiatives, and there are many more issues and discussions before Commissioners.

However, one cannot ignore the plodding nature of the meetings and the vast number of tentative, preliminary and rough draft measures that are produced – with seemingly nothing decided concretely and with finality.

The Commission has still not selected an executive director after fumbling a few months ago with their first choice. At last Thursday’s MGC meeting, Commissioners discussed whether or not they should have one or two executive directors – one being for racing and the other for gaming.

They wondered who would be in charge of whom, and also whether or not non-finalists in any upcoming applicant search would be public record. And after all of that discussion, there was no definite decision about any of those issues.

Then they discussed hiring a staff attorney.

They talked about the job description and the procurement process, which led into a discussion about legally obtaining three quotes to satisfy that process. However, no one had yet gotten any of those quotes and it was decided they would probably have that at the next meeting.

“From a personal standpoint, we need to make tracks on this, so I look forward to having that report soon,” prompted Commissioner James McHugh.

To some, such slow progress is maddening.

To others, it’s an exercise in transparency and attention to detail.

Still others have a different tack on the timeline, saying more time might be giving local people second thoughts on a casino.

“This was supposed to be on the fast track and now they’re talking 2014 or something,” said Revere City Councillor Bob Haas, a former mayor and a former city employee in Chelsea. “It’s crazy and now I hear so many people wondering if they really want a casino in their backyard. They’re talking about the infrastructure and what’s going to be done. Try going up Rt. 1A now or even Broadway. It takes forever, and what happens when all these people from the casino come in on our roads. It’s a major issue and it’s not a-go as far as I’m concerned.”

Cutline –

Commissioners at the Mass Gaming Commission discuss the ins and outs of choosing an executive director during their weekly meeting last Thursday in Boston. Local leaders believe the Commission’s timeline for licensing to be very long and very disappointing.

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