Could Massachusetts become the next big gaming destination?

A little more than a month after the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe got the town of Middleborough (40 miles south of Boston) to approve the building of a $1 billion resort casino within the town’s borders, Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed that the state license three resort casinos in different parts of the state.

“I believe authorizing three resort casinos will have significant economic benefits to Massachusetts,” said Patrick in a release announcing his proposal. “Done the right way, destination resort casinos can play a useful part, along with other initiatives in life sciences, renewable energy, and education reform, in providing our Commonwealth with sustainable, long-term economic growth.”

According to Patrick, the construction and operation of the three casinos will create 20,000 permanent jobs. Under his plan, the three licenses would be put up for competitive bid, with the expectation that the licensing process would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in direct revenue for the state. And, according to Patrick, once the casinos are up and running, they could generate up to $400 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

According to press reports, the big names in casino gambling—Harrah’s, MGM Mirage, and Wynn Resorts, to name a few—have already expressed interest in the Massachusetts market. But questions still remain. For example, the governor has yet to release details such as what kind of gaming tax rate would be set. And final approval of the casino resort proposal lies with the state legislature, where historically there has been some resistance to expanded gambling in the state.

The introduction of resort casinos into Massachusetts could present a major challenge for Connecticut’s two resort casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. According to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis, Massachusetts residents spend about $900 million annually at the Connecticut casinos.

As for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe, it now faces a dilemma. It could continue to pursue the option of building a casino in Middleborough, but this would mean going through what could be a very long federal licensing process. If that casino is completed, and assuming the legislature approves Patrick’s casino resort plan, Massachusetts could be home to four casinos.