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Massachusetts developments speeding up for local casinos

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published May 21. 2013 4:00AM
Foxwoods, Sun vie for two of three Bay State licenses

Much of the big news related to Connecticut's Indian-owned casinos now emanates from Massachusetts, where Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are waging all-in campaigns to sell casino projects in Bay State towns.

While Foxwoods is struggling to overcome its belated involvement in a $1 billion project proposed for Milford, in the eastern part of the state, Mohegan Sun continues to bolster an $800 million proposal that, with ancillary development, could clear the $900 million mark in the western Massachusetts town of Palmer.

On both fronts, the pace of events that promise to shape the casinos' immediate futures is quickening.

Foxwoods Massachusetts, the partnership behind the Milford plan, launched a website Monday, the same day as Milford's annual town meeting, which was scheduled to include a vote on a nonbinding resolution expressing "opposition to the siting of a casino in the Town of Milford."

But the town meeting voted 109-42 to "pass over" the resolution, in effect choosing to take no action on it. Foxwoods Massachusetts promptly issued a statement attributed to Scott Butera, Foxwoods Resort Casino's president and chief executive officer.

"Today's decision will allow Milford residents to make an informed choice in accordance with the timeline set up by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission," Butera said. "We are currently engaged in extensive study of all factors involved in bringing a resort casino to Milford in preparation for a referendum later this year. We welcome feedback from the residents of Milford so that we may proceed collaboratively, build trust and offer a resort that reflects the unique character of the community."

Earlier Monday, Foxwoods Massachusetts announced that David Nunes, a Colorado-based developer tied to a Milford casino plan since 2008, had rejoined the project's fold. Nunes, an investor in a group called Crossroads Massachusetts, had been stripped of his "authority and title" by other partners soon after Foxwoods joined the partnership.

Nunes is now chief development officer of Foxwoods Massachusetts Resort, the group said.

Foxwoods Massachusetts must reach a "host community agreement" with Milford officials and then win approval of its project in a binding town referendum.

If the project clears those hurdles, it could still have to compete against two other projects vying for the one casino license the gaming commission will award for the Greater Boston region. The others are Wynn Resorts' plan for Everett and Suffolk Downs' proposal for a facility at the horse racing track that straddles the East Boston-Revere line.

Mohegan Sun also is locked in a three-way competition with deep-pocketed casino operators, including MGM Resorts International, which wants to put a casino in Springfield, and Hard Rock International, which has targeted a West Springfield site.

Mohegan Sun, which filed an application for a $600 million Palmer casino in January, made good Friday on its promise to sweeten the deal, announcing a partnership with a Boston real estate firm known for developing shopping centers.

Finard Properties would build a 300,000-square-foot retail complex, bringing the investment in the project to nearly $800 million.

"Their creativity and expertise will be a huge asset to our application for the western Massachusetts gaming license," Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said of Finard Properties.

The company's CEO, Todd Finard, said his company would create "a dynamic and thriving first-class retail component comprised of restaurants, entertainment, and international fashion brands."

Earlier this month, the owner of the Palmer property where Mohegan Sun would develop the casino project announced plans for $125 million worth of ancillary development on land abutting the site. Northeast Realty, the property owner, would develop the land in partnership with Cardinal's View LLC, whose plans call for a hotel, retail space, a lifestyle center and commercial office space.

Mohegan Sun Massachusetts officials have said they expect to reach a host community agreement with Palmer officials in July. A townwide referendum on the casino project could then take place in September.

Massachusetts gaming regulators expect to award gaming licenses by the end of February 2014.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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