Here’s what’s going on with casinos in Southeastern Mass.January 29th, 2014 at 4:11 pm by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Or is it two? And is it coming to Taunton – or Fall River? Or New Bedford?
Rhode Island has a lot riding on the answers: gambling is the third-largest source of state revenue.
WPRI 12 reporter Steve Nielsen – who’s also the anchor of our brand-new 6:30 p.m. nightly newscast on Fox Providence – dug into the various proposals, licenses and applicants to sort out where things stand. Here’s what Steve found out.
We’ve been hearing about casinos coming to Southeastern Massachusetts for years. To say it’s a confusing process would be an understatement. With Foxwoods announcing plans this week to build a casino in Fall River, here’s a look at the situation.
It’s important to start off by remembering what Massachusetts’ 2011 Expanded Gaming Act actually did. The law separated the state into three regions, with each one getting a full-scale casino:
Simple enough, right? Regions A and B are moving along in the process set out by the law (though voters have shot down some early casino proposals – and could even throw out the casino law itself down the line). Region C – basically the Southeastern Massachusetts area – is where it gets tricky.
A wrench in the works
Before Foxwoods stepped into Fall River this week, only one company had submitted the $400,000 application fee to build a casino in Region C. The main reason for that? The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
The Mashpee tribe is bypassing the Expanded Gaming Act process altogether and going straight to the federal government in an effort to get approval to use land in Taunton for a casino. It’s far from a sure thing, but Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. says he’s confident a Mashpee tribal casino will open in the city. He expects the feds to make a ruling in the next six months.
That’s left investors are uncertain about the prospects for a regular, state-licensed casino in the region. With a possible tribal casino in Taunton – and Twin River already operating in Rhode Island – will there be enough demand for a state-licensed full-scale casino resort in Southeastern Massachusetts, too?
The first bid
KG Urban Enterprises, a New York-based developer, thinks so.
A spokesperson for KG says the developer found a plot of land on the water in New Bedford that it wants to use for a full-scale casino resort, and it would cost $50 million to clean up the area. The KG spokesperson claims its proposal is by far the best for Region C. KG submitted their $400,000 application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and as of this week was the only one who’d done so in Region C.
So what’s the hold up? KG readily admits they’ve had terrible luck finding a casino partner to team up with for New Bedford. They blame the possibility of a Taunton casino for scaring investors away.
Then came Foxwoods
So that’s where things stood – until Monday evening.
That’s when Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan tweeted – out of the blue – that a major casino announcement in his city was set for Tuesday morning. The next day Flanagan announced Fall River was teaming up with Foxwoods to construct a $750 million casino resort. They’re predicting thousands of jobs and a resort unlike any other.
Sound familiar? Foxwoods put forward a similar proposal – with the price tag pegged at $1 billion – in Milford, Mass., which is part of Region A. Foxwoods paid their $400,000 application fee and submitted their proposal, but Milford voters rejected it Nov. 19.
Luckily for Foxwoods, it was able to transfer its rejected application to Fall River and Region C even though the deadline for proposing projects to the Gaming Commission had passed. By doing so, Foxwoods gave KG Urban its only competitor for Region C’s casino.
The Foxwoods Fall River plan is hardly a done deal. The company hasn’t even decided on a site yet – Flanagan says he wants to find one in the next 30 days – and still needs formal approval from the city and the voters. After that, it’s up to the Gaming Commission.
(And just to complicate things even more, the Gaming Commission is also handing out one slot parlor license, and two of the three applicants are in Southeastern Massachusetts: one in Raynham and one in Plainville.)
A win-win compact
For now, all proposed Southeastern Massachusetts casinos – the Mashpee’s in Taunton, KG’s in New Bedford, and Foxwoods’ in Fall River – are in limbo as the process plays out.
However, the Taunton proposal is in a unique win-win situation. According to the tribe’s compact with the state, if another casino does open in Region C, the Mashpee casino would NOT have to give any of its earnings to the state. But if no competing casino opens, the tribe would have to fork over 21% of its earnings to Massachusetts.
KG and Foxwoods are now waiting on Taunton. If the federal government doesn’t allow the tribe to break ground in Taunton, expect the Gaming Commission to move full steam ahead in Region C and decide between Fall River or New Bedford.
Fall River’s mayor says he hopes to break ground on the Foxwoods casino by 2015, but many questions are still unanswered. KG won’t say when they hope to break ground.
In short, it looks likely there will be a casino opening in Southeastern Massachusetts sometime in the next few years. But it remains to be seen whether there will be one or two, and where they’ll be built. Stay tuned.
• Related: Why RI is freaked about losing casino revenue, in two charts (June 12, 2012)