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Tribe unveils plans for Mass(ive) casino

Sep 18, 2007 4:01 AM

The developers of a proposed casino in Middleborough are planning a massive complex with a gambling floor larger than the spaces in both casinos in neighboring Connecticut.

The 400,000-square-foot gambling floor is included in a business plan from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and developers that has been filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior, which must rule on its viability.

The floor is a third bigger than the gambling space at Foxwoods casino and Mohegan Sun, which are among the world’s largest casinos.

The 850,000-square-foot complex, to be built on 550 acres, would include a 10,000-seat auditorium for sporting events and shows, 180 table games and 4,000 slot machines.

But the size of the planned gambling floor could easily accommodate up to 8,000 slot machines, Clyde Barrow, a gambling researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told The Boston Globe.

"They must be planning to expand the number of slot machines because, at 400,000 square feet, there is lots of room," he said.

Foxwoods has 7,200 slot machines, with plans to expand to 8,700. Mohegan Sun has 6,200 slot machines with plans to expand to 7,600.

The plan estimates there is $1.5 billion in unmet demand for gambling in New England.

Scott Ferson, a spokesman for the tribe, said the plan "speaks for itself" and declined further comment.

The plan was drawn up by Mohegan Sun developers Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, who are in partnership with the tribe.

Lawmakers still must decide if casino gambling should be legalized in Massachusetts.

For his part, Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to announce this week that the state sell licenses for three full-scale resort casinos in Massachusetts, according to State House officials who have been briefed on his plan.

Patrick will recommend that the casinos be licensed in three regions: Southeastern Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, and an area that includes Boston and points north, the officials said. His announcement will mark the culmination of months of study and the end of a long stretch of public silence on the subject of legalized gaming.

All three licenses would be put up for competitive bid, in a process that is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate and direct state revenue, the officials said.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe would have to outbid other competitors if it wishes to quickly proceed with its plans for a resort-style casino in Middleborough. If the tribe decides against seeking a state license or fails to receive one in the bidding process, it could still proceed with a longer, more arduous federal approval process that could result in a fourth Massachusetts casino.

In addition, the governor will not recommend allowing slot machines at the state’s financially struggling horse and dog tracks, the officials said, a decision which is sure to set off protests and a major lobbying push in the Legislature from the politically powerful track operators.

The officials who have been briefed on Patrick’s plan said the governor will justify his decision to embrace casinos with the same arguments made by gambling proponents: that licensed casino gambling will create thousands of new jobs, spur growth in travel and tourism, and provide the state with a key stream of new revenue to augment income and sales taxes.

Billionaire casino developer Sheldon Adelson is among the gaming moguls who would like to set up shop in Massachusetts. He has proposed to legislative leaders a casino on Interstate 495 where it intersects with the turnpike.