Milford, Mass. casino faces do-or-die vote

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November 18, 2013, 7:46 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Milford, Mass.) - Foxwoods Massachusetts’ Main Street office was humming in full campaign mode Monday – in English and in Portuguese, as the town is home to many Brazilian immigrants – as a critical vote neared Tuesday for its $1 billion destination resort casino.

Foxwoods wants to build the casino on a remote, wooded site along the Holliston line, east of Interstate 495 and north of Route 16, that would be reached by a new $100 million system of frontage roads between Routes 16 and 85 and a new bridge over I-495, with massive interstate power lines that now cross through the property buried underground.

In the wake of votes two weeks ago in which Palmer rejected the Mohegan Sun casino by 93 votes – a recount is planned later this month – and East Boston voters rejected the Suffolk Downs casino 56-44, Foxwoods Milford casino foes are feeling emboldened and optimistic and Foxwoods backers were feeling extra pressure to make sure they get all their supporters to the polls Tuesday.

"This is a real opportunity for Milford, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Milford, and we're committed to it, and we hope it's a great day tomorrow," said David Nunes, chief development officer of the bid. Foxwoods and its minority partners – joined just on Friday by real estate investment trust Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. as the 55 percent project owner – are promising the town $34 million a year in taxes and other payments if they win the casino bid. "Take this school system from this school system that it is today, make it the equivalent of a" super-affluent "Weston or a Wellesley," Nunes said. "This is something that can really change forever the face of Milford."

Milford’s 2010 population was 25,055, according to the Census Bureau, with 28.2 percent of residents speaking a language other than English at home (it’s home to big Brazilian and Ecuadorean communities and is 9 percent Latino, according to Census data). While its poverty rate in 2010 of 10.8 percent was only 0.1 percent higher than the Massachusetts average, Milford reported per-capita income about 12.4 percent below the state average.

Former town selectman John Seaver and Steve Trettel, who head Casino-Free Milford, said they have sensed a powerful and passionate grassroots opposition to the idea of a casino in the first instance and towards Foxwoods and its backers as business partners, which was giving them confidence they’d win a no vote Tuesday.

"We're being offered a lot of money," Seaver. "So was East Boston. East Boston was offered a lot more and they said no … I think we win this and even win it 60-40."

Traffic, social effects, and depletion of Milford’s stressed water supplies are major reasons people in town oppose the casino, the men said. "Crime will increase, there’s no question," Seaver said. "When you have gambling and drinking, which are the two main things that are going to occur here, that's going to be bad, and that's going to flow out into our community."

Trettel said: "Traffic is the big one. You don't dump 7 million people" – Foxwoods projected annual visitation – "on a town of 26,000 and have no impact. It'll be a disaster to our commuting and weekends."

One more big hurdle Foxwoods faces – which some casino opponents call their ace in the hole – even if Foxwoods wins the Tuesday town vote on its host community agreement two of the three selectmen approved, it still needs to win a two-thirds vote of the 240-member Town Meeting to get the land rezoned for a casino.

"It's a hurdle, but one we don't find daunting," Nunes said. "We're ready to take it on."

Seaver said he thinks the challenge Foxwoods faces to get two-thirds zoning support in town meeting "is huge, but we’re focusing on tomorrow's vote -- and we're going to win this thing tomorrow."

Nunes was far more guarded and even alluded to the possibility he wouldn’t be back in Milford after a negative vote tomorrow. "We don't take anything for granted. You saw what happened in East Boston. You saw what happened in Palmer."

Trettel said what he’s heard many townspeople tell him is that casino foes have far more invested in stopping the development than Foxwoods’ backers and hired supporters do in getting it done. "Foxwoods, people tell us, it's a business deal. They win, they lose. If they lose they move on to the next business deal. For you guys, this is where you live."

If Foxwoods wins the vote Tuesday and the zoning change from town meeting, it will compete for the sole Eastern Massachusetts casino license authorized by the November 2011 legalized gambling law. Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn’s Everett casino plan won an overwhelming city vote of support in June, but Wynn Resorts as a company still needs to get a "suitability" ethics clearance vote from the Gaming Commission next month.

After and after the East Boston no vote and neighboring Revere’s 61-39 yes vote, Suffolk Downs is scrambling to, by the end of this month, come up with a plan to slide the casino part of its $1 billion resort over to the Revere side without triggering a new vote.

Bottom line: A month from now, we could have anywhere from three to zero contestants for the eastern Massachusetts license.

But even if it’s zero, that may well not end the debate. Interviewed on NECN’s "This Week in Business" program Sunday, Gaming Commission chairman Steve Crosby said he believes if local voters or commission ethics reviews disqualify all contenders for a casino license in a given region, the commission would simply re-open the bidding and try again.

"Even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that one of the regions didn’t produce a viable candidate, which I think is unlikely, we would then go back out and rebid it," Crosby said. "And there are plenty of companies that have been trying to come to Massachusetts – take, for example, Hard Rock; take, for example, Ameristar; take, for example, Rush Street Gaming -- there are three companies that are trying to find a site. So there are plenty of companies that want to do business in Massachusetts, and there's a remote, theoretical, hypothetical chance that we might have to re-bid. A, I think that's highly unlikely, but B, I think if it did [happen], we'd still go forward and have a casino somewhere."

With videographer David Jacobs

Tags: massachusetts, Peter Howe, Foxwoods, Milford, MA casino, Foxwoods MA casino
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