RAYNHAM — Local residents got their first glimpse of a slots parlor proposed for Raynham Park at a public meeting on Wednesday.
If awarded a state license, the developers would install 1,250 slot machines, the maximum allowed by state law, in the existing club house from the former dog track. The grandstand would be demolished. Subsequent phases would include moving the slots to a new, 175,000-square-foot building, and constructing an entertainment venue, retail space, and restaurants on the 125-acre site. A preliminary aerial drawing of the property also shows space for a hotel.
The plan, put forth by Raynham Park owner George Carney and development partner Greenwood Racing, will compete with others for the lone slots license permitted under the 2011 gambling law. Greenwood Racing is the parent company of Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment, which owns Parx Casino outside Philadelphia.
The timeline for writing an agreement with the town lasts only a few months.
Robert Birmingham, one of the town’s consultants, said the Massachusetts Gaming Commission anticipates agreements with host communities will be executed by August and approved in townwide referenda by October, in time for the commission to award a license by the end of the year.
On Wednesday, Raynham residents asked questions after a slide presentation made by Birmingham and fellow planner David Schweid. The two have partnered informally under the name B&S Consultants to evaluate the plan for the town at the applicants’ expense. The consultants will work with Connecticut-based traffic engineer Scott Hesketh to write a report about the benefits and drawbacks of the slots parlor; the town intends to use the report in its negotiations with the developers.
Schweid, who works as a part-time town planner in Exeter, R.I., said the report will cover traffic, parking, signage, on-site circulation of vehicles, management of storm water, landscaping, and lighting.
“Our job is to help everybody here make an informed decision,” he said.
He called the Massachusetts gambling law “quite unusual” in its requirement for a townwide referendum, which he said puts a great deal of power over the project in the town’s hands.
According to the law, the facility must invest at least $125 million within two years, not including money spent on local traffic and infrastructure improvements. The state will impose a tax on the slots parlor of 40 percent of revenue, plus an additional 9 percent to go into a fund to help the state’s horse racing industry.
Traffic was a major concern for residents, who already face busy roads in the Route 44 retail district at the southern end of the town. Raynham Park is located at the northern end, near the border with Easton, and not far from Route 24 and Interstate 495. Secondary roads to and from the highways could become congested, one resident said.
Members of the audience also asked about surrounding-community agreements required by law, and which towns would be included in those agreements; the Gaming Commission would decide, Birmingham said. They asked about local versus state jurisdiction over on-site policing, about employee wages, and about whether neighboring homeowners would receive compensation if the facility depressed their property values.
Birmingham said the upcoming consultants’ report will include information about what other communities have done about property values.
With regard to traffic, the consultants said casinos tend to have a fairly steady flow of traffic, rather than peaks during summer or at certain times of day. They have not yet made traffic estimates specific to the Raynham site.
Carney said public safety services would be provided by the Raynham police and fire departments, just as in the past.
Another question from the audience addressed the payments the facility is expected to make to Raynham as a host community, and whether those payments would be controlled by the state, like aid to local budgets. They would not. Raynham would have a legal contract with the slot parlor, and payments would be designated exclusively for the town, Selectman Joseph Pacheco said.
Resident John Cockerham asked whether the proponents were taking into account that a full-fledged casino, with table games, could be built nearby. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is planning a casino in Taunton, which borders Raynham to the west and south, and the gambling commission has voted to open the process to commercial proposals anywhere in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Cockerham asked whether building at Raynham Park might be like “rolling the dice” and risking a future drop in revenue in the face of competition from a casino.
Responding in an interview after the meeting, Selectman Richard Schiavo said that because only the Mashpee proposal is tied to Taunton, a commercial developer would probably look at locations farther away. He also suggested the clientele for the two facilities might not be the same.
“I’m not sure if a slot facility and a full-fledged casino are really apples and apples,” he said.
Schiavo, who said he favors bringing slots to Raynham, praised the track’s location as excellent because if its proximity to major highways. He said his goal is to ensure the slots agreement offers local employment and tax revenue, and does not detract from the community.
During the presentation, Birmingham reviewed some of the disadvantages of casinos, including gambling addiction. Two to three percent of gamblers are “problem gamblers,” and casinos can create a scarcity of affordable housing, which affects low-income families, he said.
From his experience working as a planner for Foxwoods and studying the Connecticut casinos, Birmingham said street crime did not increase, but crime increased on casino property, and the area experienced a few high-profile embezzlement cases.