Prospective slots parlor developers in Raynham and Leominster will be required to negotiate surrounding community agreements with the towns of Bridgewater and Bolton, respectively, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided Thursday.
Other municipalities around the proposed Parx Raynham and Cordish Companies slot parlors failed to meet the surrounding community designation, but if a slot parlor’s operations are determined to have a detrimental effect on a nearby town, they would be able to draw out of an estimated $15 million to $20 million mitigation funding, commission chairman Stephen Crosby said.
“They will have an opportunity to come to us and tap into that money,” Crosby said.
The Raynham developers already designated Middleborough, Easton, Foxborough and West Bridgewater as surrounding communities, which requires the slots parlor to work out an arrangement with the towns. Raynham worked out agreements with Taunton and nearby agreements with Rehoboth, Berkley and Lakeville. Nearby agreements are with places that do not meet the definition of surrounding community, according to a gaming official.
Cordish Companies has reached agreements with Lancaster, Lunenburg, Westminster and Princeton. Penn National Gaming, which is hoping to build a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse, has deals with Mansfield, North Attleboro and Wrentham and has designated Foxborough a surrounding community but has yet to work out an agreement.
Other municipalities sought surrounding community designations, but were not deemed to meet the definition, including Fitchburg, despite what Crosby described as an “impassioned” letter from Mayor Lisa Wong.
Gaming developers have 30 days to negotiate agreements with municipalities that receive surrounding community status, and if no deal is worked out both sides enter binding arbitration with the Gaming Commission.
Penn National agreed to give preference to Wrentham residents and businesses in hiring and contracting, study the impacts of the slots parlor on the nearby town and then fund mitigation for those impacts.
Cordish agreed to pay Lunenburg $5,000 per year, with the amount increasing by 1 percent annually, and a sliding scale of revenue sharing up to 1 percent if the slots parlor makes $275 million per year. Cordish also agreed to use union labor for construction, give hiring preferences and reimburse nearby fire and police departments for responses to the site.
Licensing of the state’s first slot parlor is on track for early January, Crosby said. The commission is scheduled to issue the lone slots license first, followed by casino licenses for the east and west of the state, and finally a license for the southeast.
Negotiations with surrounding communities could be hairier during the licensing of casinos as there are already tensions between host communities and abutting cities.
The remaining potential contenders in the east, Wynn Resorts in Everett and the portion of Suffolk Downs located in Revere, have vastly different relationships with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who will hand over the reins of government to Mayor-elect Marty Walsh in January.
Everett and Revere also border one another, connected by Route 16, making them potential surrounding communities of one another.
A backer of Suffolk Downs, Menino tried and failed to use a wedge of land technically located in Boston as a means to block the Everett proposal. Menino, who resisted calls to put the Suffolk Downs vote to the entire city, saw the East Boston neighborhood bat down the proposal on election night.
Officials in Medford next door to Everett have criticized the proposed development, and across the river in Somerville, Mayor Joe Curtatone is one of the leaders in an effort to repeal the 2011 gaming law that provided for casinos.
Springfield, the host city for a proposed MGM casino, is across the river from West Springfield, which voted down a Hard Rock proposal to build a casino there.
Dighton sought surrounding community status for the Raynham slots, and Sterling sought the status for its proximity to the proposed Leominster slots. Proximity as the crow flies is not the primary consideration for the commission, as commission staff noted that although the Sterling town line is within a quarter mile from the proposed establishment, the slots parlor would be on a dead-end, and the closest residential neighborhood in Sterling would be a 5-mile commute via an interstate.
Fitchburg had also argued strenuously for mitigation from Cordish.
“The city does not possess the internal planning, economic development and legal resources necessary to identify all known impacts and to negotiate a Surrounding Community Agreement due to significant budget constraints. This is exacerbated by Cordish’s unwillingness to negotiate with the City and the potential for arbitration as a result,” Fitchburg officials wrote.
The letter signed by Wong said, “Preliminary reviews of information indicate that cities and towns located within a 10-mile radius of gambling facilities, with a higher than average poverty level, are more adversely affected by the introduction of those venues.”
In response to an email from a Fitchburg attorney Bruce Tobey, the head of the gaming company advised city officials to visit Cordish properties in Maryland and Florida, and questioned their concern.
“We do not need to revisit Fitchburg to agree that it is depressed economically. We have been there countless times,” David Cordish wrote. “Mass Live did not create these problems. Is the City somehow contending that we are the cause of Fitchburg’s problems today.”
Crosby said the commission would fund studies to measure the impact of gaming establishments and could award dollars from the mitigation fund, which would be fed the state’s share of gaming revenue.