What You Need to Know
- A host community is the location where the casino or slots-facility will be located
- A surrounding community is a municipality in proximity to a host community which the commission determines is likely to experience impacts for the development or operation of a gaming establishment.
- MassGaming’s regulations to more clearly specify the definition of ‘Surrounding Community’.
- MassGaming offers ongoing technical and advisory assistance to host and surrounding communities via a staff Ombudsman.
Host and Surrounding Communities
A Host Community is the municipality where the casino or slots-facility will be located or is proposed to be located. The host community will negotiate with the Applicant to develop and approve a Host Community Agreement. The agreement must identify and appropriately address all impacts the gaming facility will have on the host community. The host community is then required to host a referendum to approve the Host Community Agreement.
A Surrounding Community is a municipality in proximity to a host community that the Commission determines experiences or is likely to experience impacts from the development or operation of a gaming establishment. Under the Gaming Act, gaming applicants are required to submit “signed agreements between the surrounding communities and the applicant setting forth the conditions to have a gaming establishment located in proximity to the surrounding communities and documentation of public outreach to those surrounding communities.” The Commission recently promulgated a regulation further defining the term “surrounding community” for gaming applications and other purposes. In this regulation, the Commission further defines the factors it will use in determining which communities are “surrounding communities”, if such communities have not already been designated as surrounding communities in an applicant’s RFA-2 application. Applicants for gaming licenses have the primary responsibility for determining whether a community is a “surrounding community” to be included in its application. However, the Gaming Act establishes a procedure for the Commission to decide whether a community is a “surrounding community” even though the applicant has not included an agreement with that community in its RFA-2 application to the MGC. In the event an applicant has not been able to reach an agreement with a surrounding community prior to the RFA-2 application, the Gaming Act specifies that gaming applicants and surrounding communities will have thirty days to negotiate an agreement before the Commission implements protocols and procedures to ensure the conclusion of a fair and reasonable agreement.
The definition can be found in section 205 CMR 125.00.
Timing of Negotiation of Category 1 (resort casino) and Category 2 (slots) License Community Agreements
A host or surrounding community agreement may be executed at any time by a community, providing that the execution is in conformity with local approval standards and procedures. Given that the application and permitting of a gaming facility is a complicated process, it is reasonable for applicants to request communities to engage in discussions and negotiations on host and surrounding community agreements as soon as possible. While the Commission has discussed the risks to communities of final execution of host or surrounding community agreements prior to the conclusion of the RFA-1 or Phase 1 process, there is no requirement that execution of such agreements occur after such applicants have been deemed qualified the Commission under the RFA-1 process.
Timing of a Category 1 (resort casino) or Category 2 (slots) License Referendum
Pursuant to the Gaming Act, host communities may not hold a referendum until after a host community agreement is executed and an applicant makes a request that the community schedule the referendum. Also pursuant to the Gaming Act, the host community shall hold the referendum between sixty to ninety days after such request.
The Commission’s regulations prohibit the holding of a voter referendum on a gaming facility prior to the commission’s determination of suitability of the gaming applicant. However, regulations provide an exception under which communities may hold a referendum in advance of the Commission’s suitability determination. In order to utilize the exemption, the following requirements need to be met:
a) the Governing Body of the community (the city manager and city council, the mayor and the city council, or in towns the board of selectmen) must approve the holding of the referendum prior to the Commission’s determination of suitability;
b) the Governing Body’s approval of holding the referendum prior to the commission’s determination of suitability must occur before the gaming applicant requests the host community to schedule the referendum;
c) the community must conduct a public education campaign prior to the referendum to explain, among other things, that the Commission will not permit the gaming applicant or its principal operating officers or investors to proceed with the application unless it determines that they are suitable to operate a gaming facility in Massachusetts;
d) the public education campaign shall include a notice that shall be mailed to likely voting households, that meets minimum content requirements, and that is approved by the Commission; and
e) the community shall file with the Commission a description of the public education campaign to be conducted before the date of the referendum.
While the Commission’s regulations prohibit the referendum from occurring prior to the date an applicant is deemed qualified by the Commission pursuant to the RFA-1 process unless the exception is utilized, the Commission does not prohibit the scheduling of the referendum before such applicant is deemed qualified. Host communities are urged to contact the Commission to determine when it expects to conclude its investigations for determinations of suitability.
Technical Assistance for Prospective Host and Surrounding Communities / Ombudsman Contact Information
It is the intention of the Commission (and its enabling legislation passed by the Legislature) to provide as much technical assistance as possible to prospective host and surrounding communities, as well as funding for their work, as they endeavor to negotiate appropriate terms and conditions of host and surrounding community agreements. Chapter 23K, Section 4(7), of the Massachusetts gaming law states that “the commission may receive and approve applications from a municipality to provide for reasonable costs related to legal, financial and other professional services required for the negotiation and execution of host and surrounding community agreements as provided in section 15, and to require that such costs be paid by the applicant for a gaming license.”
Host & Surrounding Community Grant Agreement and Reimbursements
The Commission has issued its standard grant agreement and Letter of Authorization for funding to be used by host and surrounding communities receiving assistance from the Commission. Requests for assistance may be initiated by submitting the Letter of Authorization form issued by the Commission that is signed both by the applicant and the community requesting assistance (a host or surrounding community). Funds for such assistance are made available from the $50,000 set aside for host and surrounding communities in the applicant’s $400,000 RFA-1 application fee, and any additional amounts made available by applicants to accommodate requests in excess of the $50,000 set aside. Communities may also use funds for reimbursement of expenses already made. Communities and applicants are encouraged to contact the Ombudsman to coordinate funding requests.
Regional Planning Agency Technical Services for Communities and Applicants
On March 14, 2013, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt a proposal to develop a partnership with Regional Planning Agencies (RPAs) to provide technical and advisory services to potential surrounding communities. This service is voluntary for applicants and potential surrounding communities. The Commission is currently working with applicants to determine which applicants will participate and what RPA services will be utilized in each region. After which, more information will be provided to communities to enable them to determine whether or how they will participate. Click here for more detail on the types of services that may be provided. Even if an applicant determines that it will not provide technical assistance regionally through RPAs, communities may still individually use the services of RPAs, with funding provided by applicants voluntarily or involuntarily through a petition to the Commission.
In the event that potential surrounding communities are not able to or choose not to use the above methods to request and utilize technical assistance funding, the Commission’s regulations provide a third method. Potential surrounding communities may petition the Commission to require applicants to provide technical assistance funding (so-called involuntary disbursements). Such a petition can occur no earlier than 21 days after the execution of a host community agreement. This 21 day limitation is included in the regulation partly in recognition that unless a host community agreement can be executed, there would be little reason for an applicant to execute agreements with surrounding communities. The 21 days after a host community agreement limitation expires August 5 for slots applicants and October 2 for resort-casinos applicants. Regardless of whether an applicant has executed its host community agreement, communities may petition the Commission for involuntary disbursement after these dates.
The MGC has appointed an Ombudsman who serves as a single point of contact at the Commission for municipalities who have questions about the Gaming Act and the licensing process. Any communities with questions on these and other gaming related matters are urged to contact Ombudsman John Ziemba at 617-979-8400 or via e-mail at John.S.Ziemba@state.ma.us.
State Agency Advice
Because state permitting will not likely be completed or substantially completed by all applicants prior to the Commission’s receipt of RFA-2 applications, the Commission has worked with other state agencies (notably the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs) to develop an agency advisory program for use by communities prior to execution of host and surrounding community. The goal of this program is to inform communities (e.g. through a meeting with a community) about agency preliminary thoughts about infrastructure plans and potential permitting obstacles that gaming facilities may face. Although participation in the program by communities is completely voluntary, Communities are encouraged to evaluate such information in finalizing impact agreements. Communities will be informed that any such information provided by the agencies is preliminary and that agencies will continue to make decisions throughout the permitting process as more information is made available. Communities will also be informed that significant permitting time will be required for applicants that have not progressed with permitting prior to submission of the RFA-2 application. Communities wishing to utilize this program prior to the execution of a host or surrounding community agreement are urged to contact the Commission Ombudsman to make arrangements.