Gaming panel officially awards slots machine license to Penn National for Plainville

By Max Lewontin, Sun Chronicle, Statehouse correspondent

BOSTON — State gaming officials voted unanimously to award the state’s first and only slots machine license to Penn National Gaming’s proposal for Plainridge Racecourse this morning after representatives for the company said they had no objections to the conditions cited by the panel.

“In addition to regulators, we’re partners now,” said Stephen Crosby, the state Gaming Commission chairman.

“I think Penn National is ready to get to work, they’re going to Plainville after this meeting,” Crosby said.

“The people of Plainville spoke very clearly,” he said at a press conference after the vote. “They’re accustomed to having a gaming facility, they’re used to the traffic issues and there was very little organized opposition.”

“They really voted with their feet with this one,” Crosby added

The proposal is projected to create 1,000 new construction jobs and bring in $250 million to the state in its first three years and $60 million after that, he said.

Timothy Wilmott, Penn National’s president, said the company was eager to get started after anxiously watching the commission’s presentations this week.

He said a celebration for the racetrack’s 100 current employees is planned for later today before the company meets with engineers sometime next week to discuss a date for breaking ground at the site.

Penn National hopes to begin live racing offerings April 15, with the combined slots parlor-racetrack projected to open in the second quarter of 2015.

“I lost a lot of hair this week watching the deliberations,” Wilmott said, noting that this was the first set of deliberations Penn had been involved in where the gaming commission’s discussions were public.

Asked about a ballot initiative effort to repeal the state’s gambling law in the fall, Wilmott said Penn would continue its work in Plainville, no matter what.

“We’re not going to slow down our construction process, and we’re going to fight if there is any kind of ballot initiative in November,” Wilmott said. “We’re confident we’ll get the right outcome.”

The decision to award the license to Plainville came after two days of presentations by the three competitors for the license, with several hours of deliberations by the commission on Thursday.

“We had a full discussion yesterday and I was proud to be a part of it,” said Commissioner James McHugh before the commission voted Friday morning.

“We have an excellent applicant and an excellent licensee. We keep getting letters that talk about predatory gaming, and this is a licensee that has an excellent record of dealing with mitigation [of these issues],” he said.

Crosby said going forward, the commission hoped to partner with Penn to tackle the issue of problem gambling, discussions that he said needed to take place in a public forum.

“What I hope the public takes away is the transparency of this process, what are our values, what are our thoughts, and that’s something we’re going to follow in awarding additional licenses,” he said.