Massachusetts Gambles on Casinos for Economic Pay Day

Last week marked the opening of the Plainridge Park Casino, the first of potentially many new slot parlors in the state of Massachusetts. Doors officially opened on Wednesday to an eager herd of gamblers, including several special guests and state gambling regulators. The grand opening took place amongst a haze of doubt as many continue to wonder if the casino will provide the kind of economic benefits the area needs.

State leaders have great expectations for the new $250 million slots parlor. Projected revenue for the casino’s first year of operations is approximately $200 million, with $98 million to go back to the state. The town of Plainville has been promised at least $2.3 million annually plus $1.5 million in property taxes.

Vice President of Penn National Gaming, Eric Schippers, is particularly supportive of the new casino’s potential, saying that past investments have “created growth in businesses like restaurants and hotels.” He continues, “Wherever we’ve gone, it’s been a real shot in the arm for the local economy.”

While some industry experts argue that opening more casinos in a market that may be reaching its saturation point does not make much sense; gambling consultant, Steven Norton, asserts that the industry will grow in Massachusetts as casinos become more local and thereby more convenient. Most Massachusetts residents are accustomed to driving out of state to establishments like Twin Rivers.

The hope is that local residents will no longer feel the need to drive out of state and gamble, thereby giving their money to outside municipalities. It is predicted the influx of gamblers to the area should help stimulate the local economy. In addition, Schippers commented that Penn National has also spread the benefits of gambling operations to local businesses via cross-promotional agreements.

Others are not so certain the effect the casino will have warrants so much optimism. Clyde Barrow, former UMass professor who has studied gambling extensively, notes that most gambling patrons will spend their money on gas and fast food—and not much else. Most of the economic stimulus will come from the 500 or so employees the casino will employ, Barrow predicted.

Undoubtedly there will be an influx of new money to the Plainville area as the casino gets up and running. The casino is expected to attract upwards of 6,000 patrons a day and, if business is good, it could cause a ripple effect of new businesses migrating to the area.

Relaxed Regulations on Food Trucks Could Be Driving Up Business in Worcester

Massachusetts, and Worcester in particular, is a place known for embracing the American Dream in all its many forms. Now, the Worcester city administrators are looking at changing the rules governing one particular form of the big dream.

Food trucks are a novel interpretation of American entrepreneurship, allowing aspiring chefs to open a small eatery to showcase their skills and tastes, while avoiding many of the sometimes insurmountable obstacles of running a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. The concept has been gaining traction nationwide, and Worcester even held the Fourth Annual Food Truck Festival on June 20, 2015.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. announced that the city will be “crowdsourcing” opinions about welcoming food trucks and other vendors in the city. Current rules prohibit food trucks from operating near store-front restaurants, and near the DCU Center. The regulations also limit the operating hours of food trucks, and, most prohibitive of all, trucks are required to move at least 500 feet every five minutes. These regulations allegedly help prevent food trucks from competing with stationary restaurant businesses.

Food trucks are good for business, because they are business. They are the very embodiment of the American dream—small entrepreneurial business, set in an automobile, serving favorite recipes. Food trucks are more versatile than permanent eateries, with significantly lower barriers to entry.

Emilee Morreale is a caterer in Worcester, and an aspiring food truck owner. “I think its worth focusing on the fact that street food is prominent in most countries all over the world, and in our country—where we have such advanced sanitation—it’s only hurting local economies and cultures to not encourage people to capitalize on their traditional recipes or innovative ideas.” She mentions that so many TV chefs have contributed to the concept’s popularity, and that access to food trucks, “[is] truly what the people want.”

Morreale also mentions that locally-owned business keeps the local economy healthier. Right now in Worcester, “Vacant shop fronts have been available for months and years with no bites…” There is no demand from prospective restaurateurs to lease a brick-and-mortar location. Instead, changing the rules would allow more local chefs to open their own new tax-paying businesses, and share their passions on the streets of Worcester.

Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton, chairman of the City Council Economic Development Committee, said his committee plans on taking up the city administration’s food truck strategies at its next meeting, July 21.