Published: June 24, 2023

The Mass. Gaming Commission is gearing up to search for a new executive director

BOSTON — The Mass. Gaming Commission is gearing up to search for a new executive director, and whoever takes over for Karen Wells will walk into a job that has changed markedly since her tenure began about three and a half years ago.

Wells, who was the commission’s chief investigator for about seven years before ascending to the executive director post in January 2020 initially on an interim basis, will step down effective July 14, the commission said last week. Commissioners are expected to discuss the process they will use to identify and hire a new executive director at forthcoming public meetings, officials said.

“I’ve worked across the agency since its formation with commissioners and staff who are dedicated public servants, committed to making sure the regulation of the gaming industry in Massachusetts focuses on ensuring the public confidence in the integrity of our operations. Together this team created the infrastructure for a new state agency, opened three casinos, weathered a pandemic, and launched the new legal sports wagering industry,” Wells said. “Today the agency’s core responsibilities are operating smoothly, and I have every confidence our team will continue the great work we have done together over the years.”

Wells was tapped to fill the vacancy created when Executive Director Edward Bedrosian resigned to work in private practice at the start of 2020. Rick Day was the commission’s first executive director.

In her time as interim executive director, Wells oversaw a few months of normal gaming operations, the mid-March 2020 shutdown of all gaming facilities, the development of health and safety guidelines for licensees, and the restart of gaming and racing in Massachusetts.

In July 2020, Gaming Commission members agreed that it made sense to abandon the idea of hiring an outside search firm to recruit broadly for an executive director and to instead move forward under the assumption that Wells would be offered the job. The interim tag was removed from her title that September.

“Karen is the model of a leader, and her influence can be seen in everything the MGC does. The MGC’s effectiveness as a regulator is a direct reflection of Karen’s efforts and her ability to build, motivate and direct the MGC team,” chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said. “Her strategic abilities and steady presence enabled the MGC to stand up a sports wagering industry committed to consumer protections in a timely fashion. We wish her the very best in the future.”

Before joining the Gaming Commission early in 2013 as director of the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, Wells served as the undersecretary for law enforcement at the Executive Office of Public Safety, and she had previously worked as an assistant attorney general and as deputy chief of the Public Protection, Anti-Terrorism, Corruption and Technology Unit at the Middlesex district attorney’s office.

Since Wells assumed the top administrative job three years ago, the Gaming Commission’s responsibilities have grown to include oversight of the newly legal sports betting universe. Together, the commission’s licensees generated a cumulative $159.67 million in revenue and $39.87 million in state taxes during May, the commission said last week.

Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor produced $98.7 million in monthly casino-style gambling revenue ($62.54 million at Encore, $23.35 million at MGM and $12.8 million at Plainridge). The two resort casinos are taxed at a rate of 25 percent and the Plainridge slots parlor is taxed at 49 percent. In all, the Gaming Commission said, casino-style gambling generated $27.75 million for the state in May.

Sports betting produced $60.97 million in revenue for the operators in May, from about $455 million in wagers placed. The taxes on that revenue (15 percent for revenue from in-person betting and 20 percent on revenue from online/mobile wagers) worked out to $12.12 million for the state in May.

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