The Massachusetts Gaming Commission changed how certain gaming tax revenues are distributed.
At Thursday’s meeting, MGC Chief of Community Affairs Joe Delaney voiced his department’s recommendation to change how the community mitigation fund distributes its money.
Delaney wants to offer more block grants. Additionally, he wants to use the money for projects throughout the Bay State. Currently, funds are used only in communities where the tax revenue comes from.
Commissioner Nakisha Skinner didn’t support the idea. However, Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein and Commissioner Bradford Hill favored the change.
Ultimately, the MGC agreed to move forward with Delaney’s informal changes. The commission didn’t make a motion to amend the spending methods for the fund. Under the statute, the commission isn’t required to fund projects in a certain manner.
What is the community mitigation fund?
The community mitigation fund uses tax revenue from gaming to fund grants for local projects in communities near Massachusetts casinos. Since 2015, the CMF has provided nearly $50 million to projects in the state, according to the state website.
For example, the fund provided money to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. The department needed money for lease assistance for the hosting of a Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center.
Commissioners debated whether this project should continue to be funded by the CMF. Several commissioners wanted the department to come to the commission specifically to ask for more money. Lastly, some commissioners wanted the department to explain how the recovery and wellness program performed.
The fund also provided money for other works. This includes funding a feasibility study to “restore the seawall and Charlestown Pumping Station and the extension of the Mystic River Harborwalk” in 2023. The study received a grant of $199,100.
The tax revenue comes from gaming at the state’s three casinos:
- MGM Springfield, in Springfield
- Encore Boston Harbor, in Everett
- Plainridge Park Casino, in Plainville
Delaney’s specific changes
According to regulations, CMF funds are earmarked for funding of “transportation, community planning, workforce development and public safety for municipalities and government entities located in the vicinity of casinos.”
As a result, the money usually goes to local first responders and the district attorney’s offices. But Delaney wants to see discretionary spending opened up to the state. He wants the state to have “more flexibility in funding.”
These changes would come through a change in the block grant program for community projects, while competitive grants should be used for statewide projects.
He met with lower-level MGC staff and local communities three times before Thursday’s MGC meeting. Delaney’s staff proposed transitioning to a block grant access following these meetings.
Lastly, Delaney said Western Massachusetts, known as Region A, received more funding than the other two regions. He believes leftover funds from Region A could be redistributed to Regions B and C.
A not-so-unanimous opinion from MGC commissioners
Hill stated he had been in the lower-level meetings and supported the proposed funding structure changes.
Commissioner Jordan Maynard liked giving more spending flexibility to the MGC. But didn’t appear ready to make any hard and fast rules regarding where the money should be spent.
Delaney suggested the commission use 40% of overall MA casino tax revenues in the CMF to help “spread the money around.”
“I would like the commission to have the discretion to use the money as needed,” Maynard said. “But we don’t know [how] the monies may be best awarded.”
On the other hand, Skinner was the loudest voice against any changes.
“Until I see something that [reveals] how this change would impact discretionary funding, I am not ready yet to support a vote,” Skinner said.
Delaney also secured support to extend a policy allowing grants to use as much as 7.5% of funding for administration costs to all awarded grants.