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Gaming commission seeks ‘wow’ factor in casino applications

Posted by John Swinconeck  June 11, 2013 03:34 PM

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WESTBOROUGH -- The head of the state's Gaming Commission said applicants looking to build one of three resort casinos in the Commonwealth need to have something “more” than a windowless facility that draws in visitors and makes it hard for them to leave.

Stephen Crosby made his remarks during the 495/MetroWest Partnership’s annual meeting on Tuesday in Westborough.

“We have made a major priority … of breaking the old model, which is a box in the middle of a space, that has no windows, no way to get out, no clocks, you bring everybody in and make sure they don’t go outside,” Crosby said.

He said the commission is looking to avoid casinos that “suck all the money you possibly can out of the community into your big enclosed box.”

“These have to be outward facing facilities. These have to be facilities that incorporate and enhance the rest of the community,” Crosby said, and help promote local tourism and businesses.

The Commonwealth is seeking applicants whose designs manifest an appreciation for “the existing Massachussets brand,” such as the Commonwealth’s history of economic regeneration.

Crosby said the applicant needs to ensure the development would be a “destination resort” casino, not a “convenience” casino.

“I refer to it as the ‘wow category,’” Crosby said.

In nearby Milford, off Interstate 495, Foxwoods has proposed a gambling resort consisting of low-rise buildings around a town square green. Its suburban location, about 35 miles from Boston, makes it unique among the contestants in the three-way fight for the sole Greater Boston casino ­resort license.

Foxwoods is competing with two urban proposals: Suffolk Downs in East Boston, which has proposed a casino at the horse track with partner ­Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts, which has ­released plans for a hotel and casino on the Mystic River water­front in Everett.

The commission is nearly finished running detailed background checks on 11 different bidders, Crosby said.

Crosby said that the commission will announced who has passed background checks for slot applicants in about two weeks.

Crosby said it was crucial to the integrity of the process that it remain transparent and fair. He added that there must be “robust” competition for every gaming license.

“We have some negotiating strength,” Crosby said. “We do not have to award the license. … Each one of these bidders is raising the stakes as they see what competitors are doing.”

As far as which proposal is farthest along in the process, Wynn Resorts has signed a host agreement with Everett. That city will be hold a binding referendum on June 22. Springfield has signed a host agreement with MGM, and will hold a referendum next month.

“Those two are clearly—quote—ahead, if you want to look at the process,” Crosby said.

Plainridge racecourse in Plainville is developing an expansion of its existing facility to include a slots parlor. Other slot developers include Raynham Park, the Cordish Company, and Chicago casino tycoon Neil Bluhm.

Massachusetts gaming law requires a $15 to $20 million community mitigation fund, paid for by the developers, to pay for unforeseen impacts a casino might have on the host and surrounding communities.

Under the state’s gaming law, an applicant must sign a mitigation agreement with so-called “surrounding communities.” A “surrounding community” isn’t defined just by its physical proximity to the host community, however. In order to receive that designation, the community must also show “appreciable negative impacts” by the casino, according to Crosby.

If the no mitigation agreement is reached, the commission will submit them to binding arbitration.

“If you’re a designated community, we will not approve anybody until an agreement is done,” Crosby said.

Contact John Swinconeck at Follow @johnswinc on Twitter.

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