By Sean P. Murphy Globe Staff May 04, 2015
BROCKTON — The state’s efforts to fulfill its promise to bring a resort casino to economically stressed Southeastern Massachusetts will undergo two critical tests in the next nine days, beginning Monday, when two would-be casino developers must submit detailed financing plans to the state Gaming Commission by 5 p.m. or face elimination.
Backers of those two proposals, one envisioned for New Bedford and the other in Somerset, need to show they have adequate financing to remain in the competition for the state’s third and final resort casino license.
A third would-be casino developer has already provided a financing plan but faces a different kind of do-or-die test: Brockton voters are scheduled to go to the polls May 12 in a referendum the developer must win to keep its dreams alive.
If the New Bedford and Somerset groups miss their deadline, and if Brockton voters say no to a casino a week later, then the prospects of a resort casino in the region would suffer a major setback, perhaps even a fatal one.
“It seems like nothing is easy in Southeastern Massachusetts,” said Donald P. Setters Jr., chairman of the Somerset Board of Selectmen , who says the region badly needs the economic boost a resort casino could provide. “We’re already way behind.”
The 2011 casino law divided the state into three geographic regions, and stipulated a resort casino in each, to help spread out anticipated new jobs and other economic benefits. The state gambling commission has already awarded two of the three resort casino licenses: in Western Massachusetts to MGM Resorts, which recently broke ground on an $800 million casino in Springfield and plans to open in 2017; and in Greater Boston to Wynn Resorts, which is awaiting final permits for a $1.7 billion casino in Everett and plans to open in 2018.
The casino law also authorized one slot parlor, which is set to open June 24 at the Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.
New Bedford ‘stands ready to advocate for the project before potential investors.’
There is no legal requirement that the commission actually award a Southeastern Massachusetts license. It could simply decline to do so. And the difficulty the New Bedford and Somerset proponents have encountered trying to attract investors has already led two gambling commissioners to publicly voice doubts that there is enough market demand there to support a $500 million casino, especially in the face of actual and potential competitors there.
Of the three regions, Southeastern Massachusetts is closest to New England’s largest existing casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut. In addition, the region could become home to yet another casino, this one owned by the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe. Casino Of The First Light
If the tribe and a private developer both open casinos, the advantage goes to the Mashpee Wampanoag because the tribe would be obliged to pay none of its gambling revenue to the state, while the private developer would have to pay 25 percent. The tribe’s casino aspirations have been tied up for many years in Washington, where the US Department of Interior must approve a long-pending proposal for the tribe to convert 150 acres in Taunton into reservation land. Casino of the first light
But these were distant concerns for those who are spending practically every waking moment working in Brockton on the May 12 referendum. Their focus last week was on old-fashioned electioneering.
Larry Curtis, a smiling commander in a crisp white shirt and floral tie, instructed half a dozen campaign workers sitting at computers on how to divide and conquer the long list of registered voters.
Don’t waste time with anyone who hasn’t voted at least twice in the last eight elections, he said.
Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford (far left) said the city “stands ready to advocate for the project before potential investors.”
At a “war room” staffed with paid consultants, Curtis walked a visitor to a color-coded city map tacked up on the wall. “This is the center core,” he said, passing his hand over the map. “We’re going door to door along here.”
Curtis stubbed a finger on the orange-colored southwestern quadrant of the city map. Historically, it turns out the highest percentage of voters. “It’s key,” he said.
The strategy is to call nearly every voter. Voter turnouts are historically low in single-issue elections like this one in Brockton and elsewhere, and winning far less than 20 percent of the city’s 45,000 registered voters could spell victory for either side, election strategists said.
In New Bedford, a referendum is set for June 23. But first the developer, KP Urban, must win over investors. “We expect to have our equity lined up so that KP Urban’s application is substantially complete” in compliance with the gambling commission’s Monday deadline, a KP Urban spokesman said.
Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford said in a prepared statement that the city “stands ready to advocate for the project before potential investors.”
Under the state casino law, no town can be forced to accept a casino within its borders. And so far, voters in West Springfield, Palmer, East Boston, and Milford have said “no thanks” to developers.
Voters in six other communities have approved casinos: Everett, Springfield, Raynham, Plainville, Leominster, and Revere. Raynham and Leominster competed unsuccessfully for the slot parlor license that went to Plainville; Revere competed unsuccessfully for the Greater Boston resort casino license that went to Everett.