Will Foxwoods Meddle in Massachusetts?

It’s a pretty simple calculus: when casinos open in Massachusetts, it will be very, very bad news for Connecticut. For years, Massachusetts residents have streamed south to play the odds at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. According to a recent study by UMass Dartmouth gaming expert Clyde Barrow, in 2010, 1 million people made the trip from our fair commonwealth to Foxwoods, while another 638,000 headed for Mohegan Sun. A previous study by Barrow estimated that Massachusetts residents make up 31.4 and 16.6 percent of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun’s clientele, respectively, and, in 2008, spent a combined $700 million at the two gambling palaces (and that was in the teeth of the recession). Obviously, then, the Connecticut casinos have a lot to lose.

That’s just one of the reasons why Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin proposed a law requiring that all campaign spending on casino referendums be disclosed and made public. For any casino project to move forward in the state, it must be approved by voters in its host community and, without doubt, it’s in everybody’s interest to know who’s spending money for and against.

You’d expect the developers behind each project to spend big to support the referendums — and it would be good to know how much they’re spending — but given how much the Connecticut casinos will be affected by new competition in Massachusetts, would they consider funding opposition campaigns?

Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Sun CEO, laughed off the idea. Of course, Mohegan is bidding to open a casino in Palmer, in the state’s western zone (the casino law splits the state into three geographic zones, each to have a casino), but he said there’s no way his company would spend money fighting referendums either for rival projects in his zone or for projects in other zones that could threaten his Connecticut flagship’s business.

“We don’t operate like that,” Etess said. “But I guess I would be foolish to think that that would not be a possibility in certain people’s tool kits.”

He said Mohegan Sun would spend money campaigning in favor of its project in Palmer, but hadn’t determined how much yet. “We believe in as much transparency as possible. That is our position,” Etess said. “So we would be all about seeing as much transparency as possible in the entire selection process.”

Foxwoods, on the other hand, has declined to answer whether or not it would spend money fighting Massachusetts referendums. Unlike Mohegan, Foxwoods isn’t playing to open a casino here. It also depends on Massachusetts residents for about twice as much of its business as Mohegan Sun. Despite repeated requests, for weeks, officials at the Ledyard casino have ignored the question. So will Foxwoods be meddling in Massachusetts’ affairs? Take their silence for what you will.

In the meantime, according to Galvin spokesman Brian McNiff, the secretary of state’s transparency bill has been introduced in the House and is currently sitting before the rules committee. The only way we may know Foxwoods’ intentions is if it passes.