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After being rejected by voters in Milford, Connecticut-based Foxwoods confirmed Tuesday it's trying to snatch up the only license for southeastern Massachusetts with a $750 million proposal in Fall River.
At a press conference Tuesday, Mayor William Flanagan said he wants to decide on a site for the casino in 30 days, and put the project to a city-wide referendum in March or April.
"This is an opportunity for the city of Fall River," Flanagan said to a packed room at City Hall. "And it's an opportunity that we're going to make sure that we fully pursue."
Flanagan said the proposed casino would create 3,000 to 5,000 jobs, including 2,000 construction jobs — all badly needed in a city that used to be the leading textile producer in the country.
"In working with Foxwoods, they have already assured me that Fall River citizens will have first preference and priority in filling those jobs," Flanagan said.
Fall River is only about 60 miles from Foxwoods' original casino in Connecticut, and just 25 miles from the Twin River Casino in Rhode Island. But Foxwoods CEO Scott Butera said competition isn't a bad thing, and insisted the company won't be competing against itself.
"Competition is OK if you're competitive," Butera said. "In Las Vegas there are plenty of casinos within two miles of each other and they all do pretty well."
There has been little competition for this region's license thus far because the state's gambling law gives preference to an Indian tribe. The Mashpee Wampanoag has signed a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick for its $500 million Taunton casino proposal but has been bogged down by federal regulations as it tries to get land into a federal trust.
Mayor Flanagan said the tribe faces "insurmountable hurdles."
"The Mashpee Wampanoag actually need a decision of the United States Supreme Court or basically an act of Congress to get their land into trust," he said. "They've been at this for well over six years and they've been creating some pretty large debt."
KG Urban Enterprises has also submitted an application in the region, but has been unable to find investors for its New Bedford proposal.
Residents who attended the meeting had mixed reviews. Some called it the city's best chance to improve the local economy, but Mary Leet said the city doesn't need a casino or the baggage she said would come with it.
"It brings people with bad morals and more crime to the city" Leet said. "They're not going to get the benefits they hope to get from this, and they're going to get stuck with things they didn't want."
Either way, action will be coming soon. The state gaming commission could rule on the project as early November, and if it's approved, Foxwoods could start construction next year.
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