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Analyst: Casino market in New England not saturated – yet

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Slot machines in New England have not nearly saturated the market, but legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts with the addition of machines would reshuffle the region’s industry, an analyst said Tuesday.

Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, told about 100 industry analysts, executives and others at the first regional conference on the gambling industry that legislation proposed in three New England states would likely lead to the redistribution of revenue and profit.

“We’ve not seen saturation in slot machines,” he said. “It might be in the future, but not now.”

A deal to bring casino gambling and slots to Massachusetts fell apart in the Legislature in August.

In New Hampshire, the Senate passed a bill to legalize up to 10,000 video slots at four locations, but the House later killed it.

And in Maine, backers of a proposed $165 million casino and resort in the western part of the state hope voters will approve a project they say will create more than 1,000 jobs and pump tens of millions of dollars into the economy.

Legalized casinos in Massachusetts would draw customers from Connecticut’s two Indian-run casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, Barrow said. Rhode Island’s two licensed slot parlors, Twin River and Newport Grand, would feel “serious repercussions” from legalized casinos in Massachusetts, Barrow said.

After his speech, Barrow said competition could “conceivably send Newport over the edge.”

Calls seeking comments from Twin River and Newport Grand were not immediately returned.

Andrew Zarnett, managing director at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., drew a comparison with competition between Pennsylvania and Atlantic City, N.J. He said the opening of casinos in Pennsylvania ended Atlantic City’s decades-long monopoly.

Similar to how Massachusetts could benefit from legalized casinos, Pennsylvania “has one great advantage: It’s closer to the customer,” he said.

Robert Heller, chairman and chief executive at Heller Gaming & Leisure, said he sees an “escalating war all over the country” with states enacting laws permitting different types of gambling to generate revenue.

To respond to a more crowded market, Connecticut’s casinos will have to increase its marketing in the state, recognizing that it has been easier to draw gamblers from Massachusetts who will stay home if casinos are legalized.

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