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Casino issues will be decided today in Massachusetts, New York

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published November 05. 2013 4:00AM   Updated November 05. 2013 11:38PM
Voters in Mass., N.Y. to have impact on Sun, Foxwoods plans

Election Day outcomes could have a profound effect on Northeast gaming in general and southeastern Connecticut's casinos in particular.

The vote likely to have the most immediate impact is today's referendum in Palmer, Mass., where voters will determine whether Mohegan Sun's plan to develop a $1 billion resort casino moves forward. About 80 miles east of Palmer, voters in East Boston and Revere are heading to the polls to render a verdict on a Suffolk Downs plan that's competing with Foxwoods Resort Casino in a three-way race for the one casino license to be awarded for the Greater Boston region.

Of less direct but nonetheless significant bearing on the local casinos is a statewide referendum in New York, where voters are expected to approve a constitutional amendment authorizing seven commercial casinos. Two of the casinos could be developed in the Catskills region, where both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are involved in projects.

In Palmer, supporters and proponents of Mohegan Sun Massachusetts, a project that includes an indoor-outdoor water park, have been campaigning hard in recent weeks. While Mohegan Sun officials have stressed the economic benefits and jobs the project would provide, anti-casino forces have maintained that it would harm the quality of life in the town, bringing crime and unwanted traffic.

Activists on both sides have predicted a healthy turnout and a narrow margin of victory for the winning side. Palmer has 7,760 active registered voters, according to the town clerk's office.

If Mohegan Sun wins the vote, it will continue to pursue the western Massachusetts casino license also being sought by Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, which has proposed an $800 million project in Springfield. MGM, which won a July referendum, announced Monday it has reached a multi-year marketing agreement with Six Flags New England, the amusement park in nearby Agawam.

A "no" vote today in either East Boston or Revere would leave the race for the Greater Boston casino license to the Foxwoods partnership and Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, which has proposed a $1.2 billion project for the city of Everett. Wynn won a June referendum.

The $1 billion Foxwoods Massachusetts project faces a Nov. 19 referendum in the host town of Milford, followed, if necessary, by a town meeting vote on a required zoning change. Before then, the project partners will appear at a "suitability hearing" before the gaming commission, which is charged with ensuring that applicants for gaming licenses meet "high standards for good character, honesty, integrity and financial suitability."

The hearing has been set for Nov. 13-14.

Recent poll results indicate the casino referendum in New York state is likely to pass, which would be good news for both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.

Mohegan Sun first signaled its interest in the Catskills in 2011, when it announced it would team with Westchester, N.Y., developer Louis Cappelli to build and operate a $600 million facility on the former site of the Concord Hotel in Thompson. Last summer, it was revealed that Foxwoods was partnering with Muss Development of New York City on a plan to develop a resort casino in Liberty on a site that includes Grossinger's, the famed resort that closed decades ago. The project would reportedly cost between $300 million and $600 million.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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