By Jack Minch
LEOMINSTER -- Companies vying for the state's only slots casino license have spent months building good will in their host communities and trying to make their projects stand out for the state Gaming Commission, which is responsible for issuing the lucrative license.
While the Gaming Commission will consider such factors as the financial stability of the developer, the number of jobs that will be created and the potential negative impact each casino might have on its area, the panel will also be looking for the "wow factor" -- the component that separates one proposal from the other two.
All of the proposals are limited by the 2011 law allowing gaming in the state, so all they all share basic features, including slot machines, restaurants and parking.
Each proposal is promising to create jobs through construction and day-to-day operations, as well as cross-market its operation with local businesses to help them attract customers.
The slots casino will be allowed to have up to 1,250 slot machines.
The owners will pay a $25 million license fee, and make at least a $125 million capital investment in its facility.
The state will tax the slots facility at 40 percent of its gross gaming revenue.
The slots casino license applications have been whittled to The Cordish Companies' PPE Casino Resorts MA in Leominster; Penn National Gaming's Springfield Gaming Redevelopment, at Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville; and Raynham Park LLC, which is a partnership between the owner of Raynham Park George Carney and Greenwood Racing Inc.
Each group has won local referendums welcoming the plans. The Raynham proposal had 86 percent voter approval; Plainville had a 76 percent approval and Leominster got a 61.3 percent approval.
The five-member gaming commission originally planned to make its decision by the end of December, but at least one commissioner has said it could now go as far as late January or even early February.
The Plainville proposal
The developers of the proposed Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville are pledging to spend $225 million in developing an integrated harness racing and gaming facility.
Its proposal includes the 1,250 slots machines and electronic games such as video poker and video blackjack; Flutie's Sports Pub; a casual restaurant and four-venue food court; as well as a lounge for live local and regional entertainment; and a new 1,600-vehicle parking facility.
"We believe strongly that the Plainridge Park vision is the best proposal for the commonwealth because of the new jobs that our project will create and the thousands of existing jobs and vendor relationships that we protect through the retention and enhancement of the racing industry, an important component of the commonwealth's economy," said Eric Schippers, Penn National Gaming's senior vice president of government affairs.
The Plainridge site's location and road system will win back gaming revenue that's going across the borders to Rhode Island and Connecticut casinos, Schippers said.
The Raynham proposal
Greenwood Racing owns Parx Casino in Philadelphia and is teaming with George Carney, whose family ran Raynham Park as a dog racing track for 50 years until the state banned it in 2010. The park is still used for simulcast horse and dog racing.
The track has a history with its community that neither Leominster or Plainville can match, said spokesman Conor Yunits.
The Carney family, which owns the park, has an equal partnership with Parx.
"They are well known in the community, they are well loved in the community," Yunits said. "The other groups are new groups; they have track records and that's great, but they are not local and with this track record."
The commission held a three-hour informational meeting in Raynham Dec. 5 and there was total community support, Yunits said.
"We really haven't had organized opposition to our proposal," he said.
The Plainville developers say harness racing won't continue if they don't get the slot casino license, so as part of their proposal, the Raynham developers are promising to relocate harness racing from Plainville Racecourse to the Brockton Fair Grounds a short distance from Raynham Park.
Raynham is still working on surrounding community agreements with Easton, West Bridgewater, Bridgewater and Middleboro, he said.
The Leominster proposal
The Cordish Cos. is trying to separate itself from the pack through its track record developing casinos nationally, its proposed location in Leominster, and its unique support of the M2D2 program at UMass Lowell.
The wow factor for Cordish's proposal is the M3D3 program, which will provide up to $1.5 million in yearly capital for start-up medical device technology companies.
"We will have the most significant spin-off effect from our project to the state and regional economy of any applicant," said Joe Weinberg, Cordish's managing partner and president. "We expect to generate 20,000 jobs in the North Central region through UMass technology funding and further establish Massachusetts as a national and international high technology center."
Cordish has developed the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., and owns and operates its flagship Maryland! Live casino in Hanover, Md., which draws from customers along the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor.
A Leominster site would be able to draw from a larger geographic region than the other proposals which are expected to be hemmed in by full casinos, Weinberg said.
Although the plan has drawn vocal opposition, particularly from residents of Lancaster, which abuts the proposed site on Jungle Road, the project has strong support in Leominster, as well as the region's business community.
It also has a memorandum of agreement with The Arc of Opportunity in North Central Massachusetts to hire people with disabilities at the Massachusetts Live! casino.
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