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Doug Flutie visits Tewksbury in run up to slots vote Tuesday

Posted by Your Town  August 19, 2013 05:12 PM

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Doug Flutie throws to Liam Walsh, 16, of Connecticut. Walsh, who like Flutie's son Doug Jr. has autism, won the ball in a raffle at a Vote Yes For Tewksbury rally Monday at Long Meadow Golf Club.

Doug Flutie pulled a quarterback sneak Monday, with a surprise visit on the eve of a Special Town Meeting, where Tewksbury voters will decide if a slots parlor with a Flutie-themed sports bar belongs in town.

Flutie, the former Boston College and NFL star, came to the Long Meadow Golf Club in Lowell for a meet-and-greet with local residents, organized by Penn National Gaming, with whom Flutie has partnered in the gambling venture.

He was dressed in a No. 22, red and white Tewksbury football jersey. The area was adorned with a large Yes For Tewksbury banner, and Flutie's football cards, showing him in action as a Buffalo Bill, were on a table.


“Doug was available and we asked him to come say thank you to our supporters,” said Jeff Morris, Director of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming.

“Flutie’s Sports Bar” will include memorabilia from Flutie’s storied career at Boston College, where he is revered for throwing the last-second Hail Mary pass that led the Eagles to a 47-45 win over the University of Miami on Nov. 23, 1984.

A vigorous debate is expected at the Special Town Meeting Tuesday over whether the slots parlor — which caught many by surprise when proposed last month — belongs in the town of nearly 33,000. Among the chief concerns for those against the casino are traffic, crime, and a drop in property values.

Sounding more corporate pitchman than signal caller, Flutie on Monday urged local residents to support Penn National.

“These guys are first class,” Flutie said to a crowd of more than 100 who filled a function hall at the golf club. “Jobs and revenue is what it’s all about . . . I would not be involved if I didn’t think it was good for the town.”

Flutie didn’t need to convince the “Vote Yes” gathering that the project would be good for Tewksbury, or the Merrimack Valley.

“We need this casino,” said Gene Walsh, a retiree who brought his grandson, Liam, 16, of Connecticut, who has autism, to meet Flutie. Flutie’s son, Doug Jr., also has autism.

“I think it’s terrific that he took the time to come here to speak with us,” Gene Walsh said.

Casino supporters from neighboring communities turned out to meet their favorite football star.

“I love him more now that I’ve met him,” said Lenore Kenney, 80, of Lowell, after getting her picture taken with Flutie. “I’ve followed him since he was at Boston College. I always loved the guy.”

Flutie greeted fans young and old with easy banter. Some asked about the Hail Mary, others about the drop kick extra point he nailed to end his career as a Patriot. Some wondered just who No. 22 is.

“What’s up guys?” he said, as three young boys gathered around him for a photo. “You have no clue who I am but you can look me up online.”

Flutie, who once had a sports-themed restaurant in New York’s Seaport District, said the Tewskbury bar would have a different vibe.

“That was a high-end steak and seafood place,” Flutie said in an interview. “This will be different. It will be a sports grill, something for people in the Boston area. “

He’s not sure of the menu yet, but promises that he will visit often. Flutie and his wife, Laurie, recently relocated to Natick from Florida.

“I’ll be up regularly, whether it is for Monday night football or some other,” he said. “I’ve got the Heisman sitting in a box now . . . I'd like to bring it up here, maybe for a month at a time, or for special occasions, to let people see and touch it."

Flutie, a former star at Natick High School, won the Heisman Trophy in 1984. He went on to play several years in the Canadian Football League, along with NFL stints with the Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, before retiring in 2006 as a New England Patriot.

“He’s a New England sports icon,” said Morris. “Tewksbury is a strong sports town. When we were deciding what our development would include, we felt a Doug Flutie restaurant would be a good fit.”

Penn National had partnered with Flutie to put a restaurant in a $1 billion resort casino the company had hoped to build in Springfield. But the proposal was withdrawn after that city opted to partner with MGM on a bid to bring a resort casino there.

In Tewksbury, Penn National proposes a slot-only parlor, with 1,250 gaming machines, that would be open 24 hours. Along with Flutie’s bar, the development would also include a two-screen movie theater with in-seat dining, a food court and a restaurant to be identified later.

A top Penn National official hopes Flutie's involvement will add some star power to its bid to win the slots license.

"The Flutie brand here in Massachusetts is gold," Timothy J. Wilmott, president and chief operating officer at Penn National Gaming, said at the Tewksbury event. "That's why we want to be partners with him. We think he's going to add a lot to our application" before the state Gaming Commission."

Penn National is one of four casino companies that have applied to the commission for the one license to operate a slot parlor in the state. Final applications are due on Oct. 4, and the commission could award the license in December.

But, before the application can be completed, Tewksbury voters must give the green-light. On Tuesday, the special town meeting will be asked to approve new zoning, that would allow a slot-facility to be built on 30 acres of land at the Ames Pond Corporate Center.

A two-thirds majority approval is required for the zoning article to pass at Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Tewksbury Memorial High School.

On Sept. 21, a special election will be held for Tewksbury voters to decide if they want a slot facility located in their town. The local referendum, the cost of which must be paid by Penn National, is a key requirement of the state’s gambling law.


Kathy McCabe/Globe Staff

Liam Walsh , 16, who has autism, and his grandmother, Jean Walsh of Tewksbury, meet Doug Flutie at a Yes For Tewksbury reception Monday at Long Meadow Golf Club. Liam lives in Woodstock, Conn., but traveled to Tewksbury to meet Flutie, whose son is also autistic.

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