BOSTON — The head of the state's nascent gaming commission has some advice for would-be casino developers lining up to cash in on Massachusetts' new gambling law.
Be creative. Think outside the box.
"I like the idea of saying to these people, 'Take the wraps off. Let's think big,'" said Stephen Crosby, who was named by Gov. Deval Patrick last month to chair the five-member panel that will award licenses for up to three casinos and one slots parlor in the state.
"Obviously, you're in it to make money. That's fine. If you can figure out a way to make money that is going to be consistent with our value structure and what we lay out as the primary values, go for it," Crosby said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Once the commission is fully formed — Crosby is the only member appointed to date — one of its first tasks will be drafting a formal call for bidders on the casino licenses.
Crosby, a former state Secretary of Administration and Finance, sees two ways to approach the task. One envisions a rigid set of guidelines and financial benchmarks that he said would make it relatively easy to compare competing proposals and make decision-making more objective.
Another option, he said, is to write a broad, conceptual invitation for bids that would lay out a system of values that maximizes job creation and other economic benefits of casinos while minimizing the potentially negative impacts feared by casino opponents.
"Then you say to these hugely wealthy, creative — presumably — people, 'Come to us with your best shot. You think outside the box, you say how you want to do this.'"
Such an open-ended call for proposals would lead to a more subjective decision-making process for the commission, he said, and one that he clearly prefers. But Crosby also recognizes a potential pitfall in this approach: the possibility of lawsuits from losing bidders.
Crosby, 66, readily admits to being as unfamiliar with the world of casino gambling as most Massachusetts residents. He plans to travel to other states to learn more about the good, bad and ugly of casinos.
The visits would include meetings with civic leaders and interest groups to find out whether casino operators kept their promises after setting up shop in a community, he said. Crosby also plans to meet with people who work with compulsive gamblers.
Once up and running, the commission can expect no shortage of big-name, deep-pocketed casino suitors.
On Thursday, MGM Resorts International announced it was partnering with a local landowner to develop a resort casino on a 150-acre site in Brimfield. That plan would face stiff competition for the sole western Massachusetts license with Mohegan Sun, which is pursuing a casino in Palmer, and from developers eyeing sites in Springfield, Holyoke and possibly Chicopee.
In eastern Massachusetts, another major Las Vegas casino operator, Steve Wynn, has teamed with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the hopes of developing a resort casino near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The owners of the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston have also made clear they will seek a casino license.
The third license, pegged for the southeastern part of the state, hinges initially on the ability of a federally recognized Indian tribe to reach a casino compact with the state. If no such deal is struck by July 1, several private developers could enter the fray.
The framers of the casino law Patrick signed in November predicted it would net the state at least $300 million in annual revenue, with casinos taxed at 25 percent of gambling proceeds. But making money for Massachusetts is only third on Crosby's list of priorities.
"I'm personally not going to get hung up on trying to make sure that we maximize the revenue generation for the Commonwealth," he said, unless it was consistent with his higher priorities.
Priority one, he said, was ensuring that casino gambling is implemented in a way that avoids corruption and minimizes negative consequences for host communities. The second priority is economic development and job creation.
"The governor is clear that he's not into this because he's got stars in his eyes about (revenue)," Crosby said. "He does have stars in his eyes about jobs."
Crosby will take a leave from his job as dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and has committed to serving two years in the gaming post. That means he could depart before any casino actually opens in the state, estimated at three to five years from now.
No matter what safeguards are in place, it might be difficult to convince an often cynical public that the casino selection process is on the level, Crosby acknowledged.
Using a common expletive to describe a disliked individual, Crosby said there would be times he must act like such a person — even to people he knows well — to prevent any hint of favoritism. He offered one recent example.
"Somebody called me and said, 'I need to talk off the record.' I said, 'I can't talk to you off the record. There is no off the record on this.'"