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Field Of Casino Competitors Shrinks As Application Deadline Nears


When Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the law two years ago legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts there were great expectations for thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Now as the end-of-the year deadline approaches for final applications for gaming licenses there is great uncertainty.

       The results of a series of binding voter referendums have left just two or fewer proposed projects for what was expected to be robust competition to build resorts casinos in the eastern and western regions of Massachusetts.  Pending background checks on two casino operators have further clouded the future of the fledgling gaming industry in the state.

       Earlier this week voters in Milford--a town of 25,000 people about 20 miles west of Boston--rejected by a two-to-one margin a $1 billion casino project proposed by Foxwoods.  The vote was the last in a series of binding referendums involving the 11 initial applicants for gaming licenses in Massachusetts.

       Voters in the eastern Massachusetts city of Everett in June overwhelmingly approved a casino planned by Wynn Resorts, and in July voters in Springfield by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin endorsed MGM’s plans for a downtown casino development.  Voters in Leominster, Plainville and Raynham approved proposals for gambling facilities that will have only slot machines.

       But then the casino operators hit a losing streak.  In September, West Springfield voters gave   thumbs down to a proposal by Hard Rock International. On Election Day voters in both Palmer and East Boston, in what were considered upsets, turned down casino projects.

       Mohegan Sun asked for a recount in Palmer that will take place on Tuesday. But the company is seeking to void the exclusive casino development deal it had with a realty company causing casino supporters such as Town Counselor Paul Burns to conclude Mohegan Sun has thrown in the towel.

       Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, confirmed on Thursday that Mohegan Sun is among several companies that have discussed partnering with Suffolk Downs on a revised casino proposal in Revere.

         Suffolk, which lost the vote in East Boston, is trying to move the project to neighboring Revere, where voters supported it.

       Casino industry expert Clyde Barrow said the odds are long, but the Suffolk Downs casino project might still be viable.

       The gaming law allows for one resort casino in the Greater Boston area and one in western Massachusetts along with one slots machine parlor that can be located anywhere.

       MGM in the western region and Wynn in the east are the only voter approved projects, but neither has passed the background check and been found “suitable” by the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

       A statewide group says it has secured enough signatures from registered voters to put a question on the November 2014 ballot to repeal the casino law.  One of the anti-casino activists Steve Abdow believes the tide is turning against casinos in Massachusetts.

       A recent poll by Western New England University found a solid majority of Massachusetts residents still support casino gambling, according to polling institute director Tim Vercellotti.

       Just 42 percent of the people surveyed said they would support a casino in their home town.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.