With two years of remote and hybrid work under its belt and its downtown Boston office lease due to expire at the end of next year, the Mass. Gaming Commission on Thursday began preliminary talks about the future of its physical footprint.
For most of its existence, the 10-year-old agency has been based out of 101 Federal St. in Boston’s Financial District, where it has ample office spaces, a public meeting room wired for live streaming, a lab to test gaming equipment and more. But since March 2020, the commission’s 12th-floor suite has been mostly empty as commissioners and staffers first worked entirely remotely and now operate on a hybrid model.
With the Federal Street lease set to run out at the end of 2023, Executive Director Karen Wells broached the topic with commissioners Thursday and said she wanted to start the conversation about various policy decisions before getting too far down the road of considering a lease extension or seeking a new space with the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
New Office Needs Weighed
“One of the major decision points is going to be do we want the same amount of space we have now so we have the ability to have everyone in the office at the same time, or do we potentially want to reduce the space? That’s a critical question. If we do end up keeping the same space, do we want to talk to the landlord and see, given the market for commercial space, … do you want to talk to the landlord about getting a potential deal on extending our lease?” Wells said. She added, “If we want to keep the same amount of space, we also have the option of looking elsewhere. We could stay in Boston and look elsewhere or we could look at other locations. There are certainly positives and negatives to that.”
The Boston Herald reported in 2014 that the Gaming Commission opted for about 21,000 square feet of space at 101 Federal St. as the growing agency moved out of the 10,000 square feet it had at 84 State St.
Commissioners shared some initial thoughts Thursday and Wells threw out a litany of issues that she hopes the commission will consider more closely in the coming months: How might the cost and disruption of a move affect the culture of the agency? What would a move mean for employee retention?
“I’m just outlining some of the issues to start the thought process and any kind of feedback you have for me as we start these meetings with DCAMM would be really helpful,” she said. “Because ultimately, as you can see, there are real policy decisions that may affect the culture of the agency and our ability to work.”
Location, Access a Key Concern
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien brought up the commission’s public meetings and public access to them. She said it would be important to her that any meeting location be accessible by public transportation.
Commissioner Brad Hill said he would like the commission to consider basing itself somewhere other than Boston. Not only might office space be cheaper outside the city, he said, but it would also mean commissioners, staff and licensees would not have to deal with hectic traffic to get to downtown Boston. Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Derek Lennon said the gaming operations the commission regulates “would echo that.”
Commissioner Gayle Cameron pointed out that the Cannabis Control Commission splits the difference by establishing a headquarters in Worcester (easily accessible by commuter rail given that the CCC’s office is inside Union Station) while maintaining a small satellite office in Boston.
When it authorized the move to Worcester in late 2018, the CCC said it was hoping that basing itself in Worcester would make its offices and meetings accessible to people all around the state and would serve as a more convenient base of operations for the CCC inspectors who regularly travel to various marijuana businesses. Before establishing itself in Worcester, the CCC spent time working out of offices just one floor above the Gaming Commission at 101 Federal St. and held public hearings in the Gaming Commission’s meeting room.
While Worcester fits the bill for a centrally-located headquarters, O’Brien pointed out that the CCC regulates businesses in every corner of the state while the Gaming Commission’s responsibilities are concentrated in the eastern part of Massachusetts, with MGM Springfield being the one outlier. Plainridge Park Casino is right along the Interstate 495 belt in Plainville, Encore Boston Harbor is in Everett and a third casino, if there is to be one, would have to be located in either Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes or Nantucket counties.
Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein, who worked for the Massachusetts Lottery from 2011 to 2013, suggested that the agency might be a good one for Wells and others to consult with. After more than two decades of being headquartered in Braintree, the Lottery in 2019 moved the base of its operations to Dorchester, within walking distance of the Red Line.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said at the time that she hoped the move would help the Lottery attract a more diverse, younger and tech-focused workforce.
Wells asked commissioners Thursday to keep thinking about the various possibilities and to share their thoughts with her so the Gaming Commission can be prepared to act, regardless of what it decides to do about its office space.