PlayUSA’s ‘On The Record:’ Casino Saturation & New England Patriots Football

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions.

To die-hard Patriots fans, that has become a common phrase when talking about the National Football League (NFL). To Patriots fans, that sentence is like a fresh sorbet; a palate cleanser to welcome the next season. To others, mostly those who live outside of New England, it makes our blood boil.

Those simple eight words have been a constant in the NFL over the past decade. Some might call the Patriots serial-winners. Others, like myself, call them tyrants. But not all Pats fans are greedy, championship-hungry fiends. In fact, some of them are quite likable.

Some are doctors, lawyers, and even college professors. I know one such fan: Paul Debole, an associate professor of political science at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts. Debole monitors the Northeast casino industry in great detail, so after the Baltimore Ravens handed the Pats their first loss of the season, 37-20, I knew exactly who to call.

Vague thoughts from a Patriots fan

If you’ve been following this weekly “On The Record” column, I’ve talked football with a few gambling experts. Both the New Orleans Saints (7-1) and the Buffalo Bills (6-2) have winning records, and if they continue to win, they have each positioned themselves for an appearance in the playoffs. So, since we are hitting the halfway point of the 2019 NFL Season, I suppose there is no better time to talk about the defending Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots (8-1).

Let’s dive right in Paul. The Sunday night game, Ravens 37 – Patriots 20. What did you think?
It was one of those cases where — there were some silly penalties. And it was one of those cases where the Patriots weren’t playing as well as they should have, and it was evident by Tom Brady’s frustration. But they did some things well. Not to sound too much like coach [Bill] Belichick, but there are things you can do better, and he’s going to use this, like any smart coach would, as a learning experience.

What did you think of Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson?
I enjoyed watching him. He played well. He’s still young, and I think the future looks good for him too.

This has the makings of a classic Bill Belichick loss, does it not?
Oh absolutely. He is going to pull a complete 180. Yeah, they had a setback, yeah they didn’t play as well as they should, but you’re going to take lemons and make lemonade. He’s going to use this as a teaching tool. They are going to look at their weaknesses, and Belichick is going to fix it.

He only cares about winning the last game of the season, right?
That’s exactly it!

As a Patriots fan, how do you keep the regular season exciting since the stigma is they win all the time?
Well, every game is different. And in the overall scheme of things, if they come away with a 14-2 record, most of the other teams in the league would kill for that record. It’s all about keeping it in perspective.

How are you going to watch the game in two weeks when the Pats take on the Philadelphia Eagles?
Well, I am not your typical Patriots fan. I like to sit back with buffalo tenders and pizza. I like to watch closely how [Tom] Brady plays and Belichick’s reactions from the sidelines. It’s kind of like a micro-study in politics and government.

Super Bowl or bust, am I right?
Pretty much. The bar for success is quite high.

The New England casino market

Again, stop me if you’ve heard this one: the gambling market is becoming more and more saturated.

Last week, I stepped away from NFL sports betting and talked about other gambling issues in the Northeast, specifically one in New York. Continuing this small trend, Debole’s primary focus is on the casino industry. As a professor who finds the realm of gambling quite fascinating, Debole spends a modest eight to 10 hours a month analyzing casino data and monitors gambling issues in his home state of Massachusetts as well as New England casinos.

“The first issue is the question of market saturation,” Debole said. “There are two tribal casinos in Connecticut. We have Twin Rivers doing pretty well in Rhode Island and the new facility over in Tiverton [RI]. That coupled with Plainridge Park, which the numbers came in far below expectation, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor, there are several properties around the state.”

By Deboles’ calculations, factoring in the use of 1,250 slot machines — the max amount allowed by law in MA — Plainridge Park is collecting $307 per machine per day. Which, according to Debole, is the industry sweet spot. The casino is located roughly 38 miles south of Boston and is “actually doing pretty darn well,” Debole says.

“If you switch to MGM Springfield, they have been sub $200 for the last four months,” he said. “I went there once to see what it was all about, and I don’t think they could decide if they wanted it to be a food court or a gaming venue.”

Market saturation is no big secret. Hell, it’s a relevant question in other parts of the country as more states look for alternative sources of revenue. Regulators in New York are anxiously waiting for three more casino licenses to be issued. This would undoubtedly add another level of saturation to gaming markets in up-state NY and western MA.

But this idea on what a gaming facility is supposed to be has been a notable trend seen all over the US. Properties are searching for more ways to get customers in the door and must adapt to a changing consumer base. This shift can be seen at casino properties in New Orleans all the way up to Chicago, where plans for a downtown casino are being developed.

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An industry adapting to change

As far as Encore Boston Harbor, which Debole said was a pain in the neck to get to, he noticed a slot machine feature that is becoming more common across all manufactured goods.

“Every slot machine I sat at had a USB port,” Debole said. “That is specifically targeted toward Millenials — so they can sit there and charge their phone while they were playing.”

It’s small changes like a USB port or legal retail and mobile sports betting that will almost certainly keep the industry afloat. But as our consumer tastes change and our technology advances, the casino industry as a whole will have to keep up. But all of this is, as we know, is at the mercy of the state government.

“The industry-wide trend is, facilities are moving away from gaming venues to resort venues where gaming is an amenity,” Debole said. “People are looking for more bang for their resort buck. And if you have a first-class resort with gaming as one of the amenities, I think it would do really really well.”

I guess you could say that the same formula keeps people coming back to watch the Patriots — a first-class organization with winning as an amenity that happens to do really, really well.

Nicholaus Garcia

About

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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