Fresh off taking her oath of office on Wednesday, Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday put the state gambling commission on notice that there is a new chief law-enforcement officer in charge now, and she will be taking a close look at the 2011 legislation allowing casino gambling in Massachusetts. Healey's fresh look is welcome as the slots-only casino in Plainville looks to its June opening, and resort-style casinos in Everett and Springfield move forward. But we oppose measures that make Massachusetts casinos less competitive than gambling halls in neighboring states. The state's legislation bans ATMs on the casino floor, but federally chartered banks might be able to skirt that provision, putting state-chartered banks at a disadvantage. Changes should be made to level the playing field. But Healey's call for a "standalone" public process for regulating ATMs at casinos, including setting the cash machines a certain distance from the casino floor, might be a bit much. A temporary ruling by the gaming commission calls for ATMs to be situated at least 15 feet from the casino floor. While stricter limits on casino ATMs might help public officials sleep better at night believing they have placed the cash machines in just the right place to deter their abuse, surely they must know that degenerate gamblers will find their way to an ATM on a casino property no matter how far it is from their favorite slot machine.
Also Thursday, Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said casino operators oppose a provision in the law that requires operators to shut down a slot machine once a player wins $600 so an employee can take down the player's name, address and 5 percent of the winnings for a state withholding tax. Most other states have the machines lock at $1,200 in winnings, and Penn National Gaming, holder of the Plainville slots license, told Crosby that difference alone could make 5 percent of its customer base head out of state, resulting in a loss of $6 million in revenue. Considering the state takes nearly half the slots revenue, that's not an insignificant amount of money. During her testimony Thursday, Healey correctly noted how casinos in Atlantic City, Connecticut and Rhode Island are struggling. The attorney general must know that the biggest reason those markets are struggling is increased competition from other states. While the Bay State debates the issue, casino gaming in the Northeast has expanded to include not only Connecticut but Rhode Island, New York, Maine and Pennsylvania. Our advice to state officials: Work hard to make sure casino operators in Massachusetts don't have to give gamblers any reason to drive out of state to place their bets.