Seven companies meet Mass. casino deadline

Jan 15, 2013 8:21 AM

The field of competitors for casino licenses in eastern and western Massachusetts took shape on Monday with several companies submitting initial applications along with nonrefundable $400,000 application fees in advance of a key deadline set by the state gaming commission.

Among them was Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn, who hopes to build a resort hotel and casino at the site of a former chemical plant in Everett, just north of Boston.

Also submitting a so-called Phase 1 application and paying the entry fee was Mohegan Sun, which has spent several years laying the groundwork for a resort casino in Palmer.

The commission said a total of seven companies, including ones that had submitted applications previously, had met the panel’s deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday. It was unclear if any other developers planned to step forward before the deadline arrived.

The state’s 2011 casino law allows for up to three resort casinos in separate regions of the state and one slots parlor.

Wynn, whose prominent Las Vegas properties include the Bellagio, The Mirage and Treasure Island, secured a lease on the 37-acre site in Everett after abandoning an earlier plan to develop a resort casino in Foxborough on land owned by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn, said plans for the project include a resort with 300 to 500 rooms, a luxury spa, fine and casual dining restaurants, meeting and convention space, and a shopping esplanade.

A spokesman for Wynn did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Also competing for the eastern Massachusetts casino license are the operators of Suffolk Downs, who had paid the $400,000 fee earlier and formally submitted the application on Monday. They have partnered with Caesar’s Entertainment for a proposed $1 billion resort at the site of the 77-year-old racetrack in East Boston.

‘‘This is an economic development initiative that will set the standard for gaming development in Massachusetts and will create thousands of new jobs with real career paths and room for advancement,’’ Richard Fields, a principal owner of Suffolk Downs, said in a statement.

Mohegan Sun on Monday formally joined three other companies competing for the western Massachusetts casino license. MGM Resorts and Penn National Gaming have both proposed casinos in Springfield, and Hard Rock International on Friday announced plans to develop a resort at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield.

Mitchell Estess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said it struck a partnership with New York investment group Brigade Capital Management to bankroll the development, which would feature gambling, a hotel, a spa, retail stores and restaurants on land adjacent to the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Though Mohegan has been working to develop relationships in Palmer for more than three years, ‘‘Sometimes you need a deadline to get you to finish your term paper,’’ Estess said of submitting the application just before Tuesday’s deadline.

Mohegan’s Connecticut casino is approximately 85 miles southeast of Palmer. The company also operates a gambling hall in Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Baruffaldi, spokeswoman for the Citizens for Jobs and Growth in Palmer, said members of the pro-casino group are applauding Mohegan Sun for moving forward with plans that could bring jobs and revenue to the town.

But members of Quaboag Valley Against Casinos said a casino could bring more traffic, divert business from local shops and lure residents to gamble rent and grocery money.

‘‘It brings prostitutes. It brings in drugs,’’ said Iris Cardin, president of the anti-casino group. ‘‘This isn’t Las Vegas.’’

The casino law gave first crack in the southeastern Massachusetts region to a federally recognized Massachusetts Indian tribe. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has proposed a casino for Taunton, but the gaming commission has said it could begin accepting applications from commercial developers later this year if the tribe does not demonstrate progress in renegotiating a casino compact with the state that was rejected by the U.S. Interior Department or advancing a bid to place the Taunton land in federal trust.

So far, only the Plainridge harness racetrack in Plainville has formally applied for the sole license to operate a slots-only facility. George Carney, president of Raynham Park, a former dog-racing track, told The Associated Press in December that he also planned to seek the slots license.

The gaming commission expects to spend several months reviewing the financial qualifications and backgrounds of the applicants before proceeding to a second and more competitive phase of the casino selection process.

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