Game On?

1212681757Ever since Sal DiMasi and friends applied the sole of their collective boot to Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino proposal, there’s been a fair amount of after-the-fact regret going around. So much so that the pesky topic just won’t go away. As one gaming industry insider emailed us from Vegas, “I think the industry pretty much agrees it is not a question of if gaming will come to Massachusetts, but only a question of when.”

The past week has produced a couple of significant—and highly related—developments to that end. First, WBZ reported yesterday that Patrick is ready to start negotiating a compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. This online report fails to mention it, but the governor and the tribe are talking in the event that the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs accept the Mashpee’s application to put their Middleboro land into federal trust.

If that process were to end successfully for the tribe—no sure thing, and any final decision is still at least well over a year off—then the Mashpee would only be able to open a “Class II” casino, which is basically a watered down facility that would not include slots, poker, or blackjack.

In order to have the more traditional “Class III” casino, they have to strike a deal with the state. For instance, Connecticut made an agreement with its tribes to get a 25 percent take on all slots action for the right to open Class III casinos. That type of agreement is what Patrick says he’s ready to start working on with the tribe now.

Which brings us to our second significant development. The National Indian Gaming Commission just gave up its long-standing effort to deal with Bingo Slots—a gaping loophole in this whole Class II/Class III business.

Bingo slot machines look like slot machines, play like slot machines, and smell like slot machines, but because their game is technically bingo (lightning fast computers rig players to compete against each other), they are classified as Class II games. The NIGC was trying to upgrade the machines to Class III, but to no avail.

In the past, the bingo slot loophole has allowed tribes—the Florida Seminoles are the best example—to open Class II casinos as essentially (bingo) slot parlors, without having to pay any taxes to the state. A successful Class II casino can then be used as leverage against the state, which would typically rather get a Class III deal done so it can collect money from the gambling bonanza going on inside its borders.

What this all means is that the bingo slots ruling is a huge bargaining chip for the Mashpee. If they don’t like what Patrick’s bringing to the table, they can send it back and threaten to follow the Seminole path. A Class II casino certainly would not be nearly as profitable as a Class III, but here in gambling-crazy Massachusetts, it would still likely rake in the dough.

After all the state has gone through with gaming, could anyone think of a worse scenario than a casino coming to Massachusetts, but the state not seeing a cent of the profit?