November 19, 2013

Mass. town votes down Foxwoods’ casino proposal

The $1 billion casino proposal was the third one to fail in Massachusetts in the last month.

The Associated Press

MILFORD, Mass. — Town residents on Tuesday strongly rejected a proposal to build a $1 billion resort casino, further cutting into the field of potential candidates in the hunt for the state's first regional resort casino licenses.

click image to enlarge

Mary Castrucci, left, and Rosemary Trettel, center, both of Milford, Mass., display placards outside a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, in Milford. The town’s residents were deciding whether to put out the welcome mat for a proposed $1 billion resort casino that would have been built off Interstate 495.

AP Photo/Steven Senne

click image to enlarge

Barbara Morganelli, of Milford, Mass., center left, displays a placard while speaking with Chris Murphy, hand only at right, outside a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, in Milford.

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Foxwoods chief executive Scott Butera conceded defeat shortly after the polls closed in the referendum, telling disappointed supporters the vote meant the project wouldn't go forward. The town clerk's office said the complete unofficial totals were 6,361 votes against it and 3,480 votes for it.

The group Crossroads Massachusetts had proposed a casino off Interstate 495 that would've been managed by Foxwoods.

Opponents in the town of 27,000 residents warned of traffic jams, increased crime and reduced property values. Their arguments carried the day over supporters who touted jobs and more than $30 million in potential new annual revenue for the community.

"Our town wasn't for sale," said John Seaver, co-chair of the anti-casino group Casino-Free Milford, which celebrated at a local restaurant after the vote. "They wanted to come in and call the shots, and they almost did. But the people rose up, pushed back and overwhelmingly said this town is not for sale."

The result was the latest setback for backers of large-scale casinos, coming on the heels of votes earlier this month against Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Butera said the setbacks may stem from myths and stereotypes about casino gambling.

"I think people are afraid of the unknown. There's a lot of myths about what casinos are," Butera said after the vote. "They are not these crazy hedonistic places. They're actually very nice resorts that have a lot more to do with just games."

The vote was the last of a series of binding referendums held this year in communities around the state, required under the state's 2011 gambling law, which allows for up to three regional resort casinos. Final applications are due Dec. 31, with the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission to award the licenses as early as next year.

In June, voters in Everett overwhelmingly approved a plan by Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn to build a resort casino along the Mystic River. In July, Springfield voters backed MGM Resort International's proposal for a downtown casino that could compete for the sole western license. Voters in Plainville, Raynham and Leominster backed proposals for smaller gambling facilities known as slots parlors.

But the tide appeared to turn against the larger casino developers in recent months. In September, voters in West Springfield said no to a proposal from Hard Rock at the Eastern States Exhibition. On Nov. 5, East Boston residents rejected Suffolk Downs' bid to add a casino to the thoroughbred racetrack, while voters in the small western Massachusetts town of Palmer narrowly turned aside Mohegan Sun's plan to build a casino near the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Mohegan Sun asked for a recount, slated for Nov. 26. Suffolk Downs is considering moving its project into Revere, where voters were supportive.

The recent votes, along with the pending results of background checks by the commission on Wynn and MGM, have added to the uncertainty surrounding the casino licensing process and raised the odds that just two or fewer proposals will compete in both the eastern and western regions.

The outlook in the third region, southeast Massachusetts, continues to hinge at least in part on the ability of the Mashpee Wampanoag to secure federal approvals for the tribe's proposed casino in Taunton.

Another leader of Milford's anti-casino forces, Steve Trettel, said voters were sending a message to state leaders.

"This is more than just Milford," Trettel said. "This is a message to our state legislature that you have to find another source of revenue."

A statewide group was gathering signatures in the hopes of putting a question on the November 2014 state ballot to repeal the casino law.

Butera, who joked to supporters that they would just have to continue visiting to the company's Connecticut casino, wouldn't rule out another attempt to enter the Massachusetts market.

"We obviously like Massachusetts," he said. "We know a lot about it. If the opportunity arises, certainly we'll look at it."

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