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Gleam of casino gold draws delight, denunciations

Like gamblers anticipating winnings, community leaders in prime potential locations for the state's first casinos reveled yesterday in the news that Governor Deval Patrick reportedly wants to bring three gambling developments to Massachusetts.

Embracing the expected proposal that the state would sell three licenses for full-scale resort casinos, some officials even immediately launched well-honed sales pitches to try to give their communities the edge in landing the coveted license, which supporters say would bring tax revenue and jobs.

"I had a smile on my face that went ear to ear this morning" on hearing the news, said David Alves, a city councilor in New Bedford, which is a strong contender for a casino. "We have better accessibility than any other community, and we're ready to go. I want to invite you now to the opening."

Casino opponents, however, were disappointed by the move and said more casinos would foster social ills, addictions, and crimes that would overshadow any financial benefits.

"The more you learn about the issue, the more skeptical you become," said state Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat and vice chairman of the Legislature's economic development committee. "It's fools' gold."

Patrick is expected to announce as soon as today his support for a competitive bid process for three casinos that would be located in Southeastern Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, and an area in or north of Boston. Many communities in these areas have been in discussions with casino developers and have been vigorously debating the merits of casinos in anticipation of Patrick's decision.

In interviews in East Boston yesterday, many residents - veteran and occasional gamblers alike - were already anticipating the all-night electricity of a casino floor.

"I'm there," exulted Noreen Dunbar, 60. On occasional trips to Connecticut casinos, she said, "I donate more than I take home."

"I like the slots," she said as she smoked a cigarette outside a Maverick Square bar yesterday afternoon. "My fingers get black from the quarters. You have to have a little fun in this life."

But other residents said Boston is cluttered and cacophonous enough without the round-the-clock tour buses bound for the chance of easy money. The fear of traffic, they said, outweighed the lure of tax lucre.

"That close?" asked Avalon John, 27, her 19-month daughter in tow as she headed toward the T. "That's too close. Not a good idea. We have enough of everything already."

In Middleborough, which already has a multimillion-dollar deal in place with the Mashpee Wampanoags for a massive casino resort, reaction was decidedly mixed amid uncertainty over how additional casinos would affect the tribe's plan. Some people said other gambling sites could threaten the tribe's bid and hurt the Wampanoag's proposal's competitive standing. But others predicted it would have little impact, or could even improve the community's position.

"Multiple casinos will likely mean smaller operations than what the tribe has planned," said Selectman Adam Bond, who helped negotiate Middleborough's casino deal. "If a casino is built in Middleborough, we'll be protected."

Dennis Whittlesey, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represented Middleborough in its negotiations, said plans to expand the casino marketplace will not weaken the Mashpee bid.

"I think the illusion that the non-Indian casino industry will be up and running quickly is just that. The legislative process is enormously complicated," Whittlesey said. "If I was representing the tribe, I wouldn't be very worried about the competition."

But Clyde Barrow, a gambling researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, said investors could grow wary of an oversaturated market.

"Three commercial licenses will definitely weaken Middleborough's position," he said.

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said a Middleborough casino would not dampen interest in a separate facility in New Bedford.

"We have all the ingredients" to win a license, he said.

In Chicopee, Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette said he will move forward with plans for a referendum on the November ballot to gauge public opinion on a casino. The city has been approached by three casino developers in recent months eyeing land just off the Massachusetts Turnpike. Officials estimate that a casino will generate as much as $12 million a year in taxes.

Last month, the operators of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut announced plans to build a retail complex and casino beside the turnpike in Palmer if commercial gaming were legalized.

Bissonnette said he welcomed word of the expected casino licensing proposal, particularly the competitive bidding process, which he said would yield a financial windfall. But he urged that state leaders develop casinos regionally so that localities can share the benefits and drawbacks.

"It's time for a revenue reality check, since it's pretty clear we're losing hundreds of millions of tax dollars from people going down to Connecticut and Rhode Island," he said. "But it's going to have an impact that's both good and bad for all the surrounding communities, so there's got to be some revenue-sharing."

Kathleen Norbut, a selectman in Monson, which borders Palmer, said the plans ignored local concerns about casinos' drawbacks.

"We have not been involved in any level of this decision-making process, and we're going to be the most impacted," she said. A large casino, she added, would threaten the way of life in Monson, a rural town of 8,500.

"This is a quick fix for revenue that will create more problems than it could ever solve," she said.

But many East Boston residents said the sooner the better.

"Real estate taxes are sky-high," complained John Conti, 75, outside his T-shirt stand near Maverick Square. "I think they should build [the casinos] tomorrow."

Matthew Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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