4 more casino plans?

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January 16, 2013, 6:22 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Newton, Mass.) - State gambling regulators said they were thrilled when 11 bidders met the Tuesday evening deadline to bid for two of three casino licenses and a slots parlor license, and as of Wednesday, four more bidders are hoping to get permission to make belated applications to enter the contest.

Two are in Holyoke, one in Chicopee and a fourth would become the third bidder in the contest without a specified location in the state.

It’s likely to be an uphill fight for them to come in late, Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby cautioned Tuesday night. But the ongoing flurry of interest follows what some experts called a surprisingly strong level of interest in the Massachusetts gambling contest.

"Overall, I think it’s actually a pretty good turnout, and it’s surprising for how long this has all be going on," said Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College professor and gambling expert who serves on the state’s compulsive-gambling commission. "It went as well as the casino could help."

McGowan said the biggest surprise to him was that developer David Nunes, with newly announced partner Warner Gaming (which runs the Hard Rock Las Vegas), came through with an application and $400,000 fee for a site east of Interstate 495 in Milford Nunes has been pitching as a casino project since 1998. The Nunes team had largely gone quiet in recent months, and many city officials wondered if he bid was still real. But the Nunes/Warner team now stands – if it clears the six-month background check and can persuade lenders and investors it can overcome hurdles like building new highway ramps and shifting power lines in the rocky, hilly 200-acre parcel – as a challenger for the long-perceived front-runner Suffolk Downs/Caesars Entertainment project and Steve Wynn’s plan for a resort hotel casino on riverfront land in Everett.

"You have three legitimate contenders, I think, for the Boston licenses, which is more than people ever thought was going to happen," McGowan said. "Now that you have three bids for it, I think the competition there, it makes it a lot better"

Nunes, in a brief phone interview with NECN Wednesday, said he is confident that "at the end of the day we will be seen as the best location" with none of the issues of developing a casino in densely developed, traffic-clogged urban areas. Nunes said he had no immediate additional details to announce.

"It’s a nine-inning ball game, and we’re at the first out of the first inning," Nunes said.

Besides all the bidders announced Tuesday night, Wednesday Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said four more bidders have formally notified the commission they hope to be considered as late entrants (something the commission legally can do, but Crosby indicated is unlikely.)

They are: In Holyoke, Good Sam’s Casino Inc. and WM Development Company LLC, "trading as" Paper City Development, which wants to build a casino at a local country club. They’ve both indicated to local media that Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s flip-flop-flip on casinos this autumn – he campaigned for mayor opposing casinos, then said he changed his mind, then suddenly changed back to opposing – snarled their ability to get plans gelled in time to make the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

The City of Chicopee asked for leeway to submit a late application, which Mayor Michael Bissonnette said in an NECN interview was meant "to put in a placeholder" to ensure consideration for a late-breaking Cabotville Mill redevelopment plan, still coming together, which may or may not include a casino. Bissonnette indicated one possibility is that one of the companies that’s put in a bid without yet identifying a location – Rush Street Gaming and The Cordish Cos. – might get hooked up with a Chicopee casino plan, and he said he wants to make sure Chicopee can stay in the discussion.

The fourth formal late applicant, according to Driscoll’s list, is The Seafan Trust, whose trustee is Kathryn Akuahah Wheaton, a Brookline resident and Nipmuc Indian activist. She’s listed as the trustee of Seafan and of an entity called Sun Moon Casino Resort, and told NECN in a short telephone interview that a family death prevented her from making the deadline Tuesday, but she wants to pursue plans for a 500- to 1,000-acre $1 billion project somewhere in the eastern or western Massachusetts casino zone. (The southeastern Massachusetts casino license is initially on hold while state officials see if the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe can get federal approval to take into trust land in Taunton to build a federally licensed casino.)

It’s unclear which, if any, of the teams might get approval for the first phase of the casino licensing process, a six-month background check. (In Phase II the commission will evaluate approved bidders plans in specific locations and decide which bids are best for the state.) Tuesday night, Crosby said, "Our deadlines can be waived, and if anybody applies to us formally for a waiver, under that regulation, we will look at it and talk about it in a public meeting, but fundamentally we're adhering to the schedule."

McGowan said as satisfied as state officials should be with the level of interest in the casino and slots parlor licenses, the competitive landscape is changing rapidly, and could look very different by the time a slots parlor opens in late 2013 or a casino in probably 2015 or 2016.

"Our neighboring state, New Hampshire, looks like they're going to move very quickly, and then there's other issues you have to take into account," McGowan said. "By the time our casinos are built, you're probably going to have legalized sports gambling in New Jersey -- and so that's going to be a whole other issue that people are going to have to deal with."

With videographer Bob Ricci.

Tags: massachusetts, Peter Howe, Steve Crosby, Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Richard McGowan, Massachusetts casino bids deadline
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