BOSTON – Gambling interests hoping to win gaming licenses in Massachusetts are starting to rein in their lobbying efforts on Beacon Hill and focus instead on persuading cities and towns to host their casinos.
During the first half of 2013, companies spent just $1.1 million on political lobbying at the state level in Massachusetts, according to an Associated Press review of records filed with the state secretary’s office. One firm — MGM Resorts International — spent almost that much in just six weeks in an effort focused on convincing Springfield voters to back a casino there.
The state-level spending is a big drop from the $1.7 million spent by casino firms during the first six months of 2011, at the height of the contentious push at the Statehouse to legalize the gambling facilities in Massachusetts. They spent a total of $3.1 million that year, when Gov. Deval Patrick signed the casino bill.
By 2012, the year after the law took effect, the total amount spent by casino interests on state-level lobbying had fallen to about $2.3 million.
Now companies are turning their attention, and their money, to winning the three casino and one slots parlor licenses allowed by the law. The first step is persuading voters in cities and towns to sign off on their proposals.
They don’t have much time — the casino licenses are expected to be awarded early next year, while the winner of the slots license could be named later this year.
In Springfield, where MGM Resorts International spent nearly $1 million, local voters overwhelmingly backed a proposed casino. An opposition group spent little to fight it.
MGM donated $480,000 to the pro-casino group Yes for Springfield between May 17 and June 28, according to campaign finance records. Most of it was spent on television, radio and billboard advertising. MGM also made more than $500,000 in “in-kind” contributions for services like political consulting, staff time and travel.
Company spokeswoman Carole Brennan said at the time that the company “did what was required to get as many people as possible the facts about MGM Springfield.”
There are two other proposed casinos fighting for the sole license available in the western part of the state: Hard Rock International wants to build a casino in West Springfield, while Mohegan Sun hopes to build a venue in Palmer.
In Everett, the first city to hold a binding referendum, companies controlled by Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn spent more than $460,000 before the June 22 vote. Wynn’s proposed development — $1.2 billion casino on a 37-acre site along the Mystic River that once housed a chemical plant — was overwhelmingly approved. There was no organized opposition.
The Wynn plan faces competition for the sole eastern Massachusetts license from Suffolk Downs in Boston and Foxwoods Resorts, which is backing a proposed casino in Milford.
One of the top spenders on state-level lobbying during the first half of 2013 was the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which reported spending more than $313,000 hiring lobbyists.
The tribe has proposed a resort casino in Taunton but faces several hurdles, including the need for federal approval of a land-in-trust application.
In another indication of gaming companies shifting their money away from Beacon Hill, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which owns Suffolk Downs, spent just $96,000 on lobbying state lawmakers so far in 2013.
That’s far less than the nearly $320,000 it spent on lobbying during the same period in 2011.
The bulk of lobbying money is typically spent on the salaries of paid lobbyists, many of whom also donate to the campaigns of state lawmakers.