Some Mass. Performing Arts Centers To Benefit From Casino Tax Revenue

Feb 11, 2020

Some nonprofit arts venues in Massachusetts could get money from the state if they can demonstrate their bottom lines have been hurt by casino entertainment.

The money will annually funnel through the Mass Cultural Council, which will receive 2% of the state's casino tax revenue for the arts mitigation fund

Most of that revenue, about $3 million this year, will go to nonprofit performing arts centers whose core business — more than 50 percent of their budget — consists of touring shows, operas or concerts, according to Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker.

"A casino can basically give away tickets for free and pay top-dollar for a touring act, because it isn't really part of their balance sheet and their bottom line,” Walker said. “Our cultural organizations look very, very carefully at how much it costs to bring in an act and how much they charge for a ticket."

The Hanover Theatre in Worcester has reported several types of entertainment revenue losses since the MGM casino opened in Springfield.

It reported to the Mass Cultural Council that since MGM Springfield opened “Roar! Comedy Club” in January 2019, the Hanover booked 13 fewer artists than average, with an estimated impact of $319,631.

According to the theatre, Steve Martin & Martin Short, Family Feud Live and Aziz Ansari all declined to play the Hanover and instead appeared at MGM Springfield, with an estimated impact of $135,500.

The Hanover also reported that touring artists’ fees are increasing due to the casino presence in the market. In 2008 and 2010, the theatre said, Foreigner’s fee to perform was $40,000.  The fee for this same artist to play the Hanover in 2019 was $75,000.

Some venues, like Springfield’s Symphony Hall, don’t meet the grant program’s guidelines, as it is now managed by a MGM Springfield.

The Mass Cultural Council started accepting grant applications earlier this month.

Walker couldn't say what the maximum grant will be. The only sure bet is the fund size will fluctuate, based on how much money visitors gamble at the casinos.