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MILFORD

Endgame considered for casino

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / October 14, 2010

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For a Colorado developer with dreams of building a gambling resort in Milford, it may be next year or bust when it comes to the passage of casino legislation on Beacon Hill.

David Nunes, who has proposed a $725 million complex alongside Interstate 495, said he is still bullish on the prospects for expanded gambling in Massachusetts. After the 11th-hour collapse of casino legislation this summer, he contends lawmakers will revisit the issue and pass a bill early next year.

But Nunes also warns if that doesn’t happen, he would have to seriously evaluate whether to drop his plans for a destination resort with 3,000 slot machines, five restaurants, and a 300-room hotel.

“If they don’t do anything in this next legislative session, I think the odds are they are not going to do anything ever,’’ Nunes said in an interview last week.

Watching anxiously are local business owners, who say a casino in town could provide a badly needed boost.

“I can tell you personally from the perspective of running two small businesses, both are feeling the pain of a sluggish economy,’’ said Bob Clemente, owner of Midtown Family Fitness and the Purchase Street Market in Milford. “The lack of jobs is impacting our businesses significantly.’’

Nunes, who has teamed up with Las Vegas-based Warner Gaming, said that he cannot sit back and wait for years, hoping Massachusetts finally gets around to legalizing casino gambling.

If a casino bill fails to pass at the State House next year, Nunes said, he would have to look closely at the cost of continuing to pay for options to develop the land. The agreement allowing him to buy nearly 200 acres between routes 16 and 85 near I-495 is good for three years, he said.

Nunes said he has no plans to pursue other types of development on the property, and noted that there is already office space available nearby.

“Everything has a limit,’’ he said.

Nor is Nunes alone in seeing a need for a reassessment if casino legislation once again goes down to defeat.

William Buckley, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said Milford would also have to take a hard look at whether to stick with the developer’s proposal if casino legislation continues to go nowhere on Beacon Hill.

The town signed an exclusivity agreement with Nunes, agreeing not to negotiate with any other would-be casino developers, but that agreement runs out next summer, he said.

“Certainly we would look at the status of the legislation,’’ Buckley said last week. “We would look at the land rights and what other developers might be interested in doing. Maybe somebody else has a different plan better suited for Milford.’’

Nunes is hoping it won’t come to that.

Despite a long history of casino bills going down to defeat in the Massachusetts Legislature, he predicts that next year will be different, with the state’s top leaders expected to support some version of expanded gambling.

A casino bill made it to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk this summer, but then stalled at the finish line in a dispute over whether local racetracks should be allowed to roll out slot machines.

Patrick supports casinos but not racetrack slots, while Republican gubernatorial challenger Charles Baker has proposed one casino and up to 2,000 slots at other facilities, though not necessarily at racetracks. Independent candidate Tim Cahill supports the bill passed by the Legislature last summer that would have rolled out three casinos and slot machines at local racetracks.

Nunes said that although he would reevaluate his plans if casinos aren’t approved next year, he would not automatically cut and run. “We are firm believers that Massachusetts has reached the point in its history that they know gaming is in its future, and its more immediate future,’’ he said.

His confidence is not misplaced, according to Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“I would say it’s as close to a certainty, as much as anything can be in Massachusetts politics,’’ Barrow said.

Meanwhile, some business owners are lining up to help give the Milford casino proposal what they hope will be one final push over the finish line.

Clemente and fellow members of the Greater Milford Business Alliance recently voted to send a note to town selectmen offering their support in moving the casino plan forward.

“There is a group of local business people; we are ready and willing to help,’’ Clemente said.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.

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