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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided Thursday to give potential commercial casino developers in the southeastern region until the end of September to piece together their initial bids, opting against pushing the date up by one month out of concern that it could stifle competition.
Under the revised timetable outlined by commissioners, the awarding of a casino license in the southeast region would trail the other two gaming regions in the east and west by about seven months with a license awarded the last week in October 2014. The commission is already concerned that the competition in the region could be minimal.
Gaming Commission Executive Director Rick Day said the 14-month window would also give the commissioners ample time to evaluate any progress being made by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on securing federal land in trust for its proposed Taunton casino. The Legislature is reviewing a revised tribal gaming compact with the state.
The commission made the controversial decision last month to open the third gaming region created by the 2011 expanded gaming law to commercial bidders, soliciting project proposals to compete in a region that had previously been reserved for a tribal casino.
Though commissioners said they would continue to monitor the Mashpee Wampanoag’s casino bid and reserve their right to award the license to the tribe, there was a growing concern that the process could take years or fail, leaving an entire region without the economic development opportunities envisioned by the legalization of casinos.
“The design and the thought to this process is to have communities vote after we conduct suitability studies and to avoid summer elections,” Day told the commission, which met Thursday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Though the commission had originally been eyeing Oct. 2 as a deadline for potential developers to submit initial applications with a $400,000 non-refundable application fee, Day recommended on Thursday pushing up the date until Aug. 31.
Commission ombudsman John Ziemba, however, said he had heard from at least one developer that the schedule was already “tight” to line up necessary financial backers for a casino project, and an earlier date could have a “chilling effect” on his application.
Though the commission weighed the possibility of easing their waiver standards in the southeast region for developers who needed a little more time after August to finalize an application, Commissioner James McHugh suggested it would be better to wait.
“I would prefer to bite the bullet now and give a little more time rather than try to squeeze a new standard into regulation,” McHugh said. The five commissioners agreed unanimously.
Day said he intended to issue a request for applications next week, starting the process immediately. “It begins right away,” he said.
It remains unclear how fierce the private competition in Region C will be for one of the state’s three casino licenses, with much of the focus until now on the Mashpee tribe and their hopes to build a resort casino in Taunton.
K.G. Urban Enterprises has long had interest in developing a casino in New Bedford, and could emerge as one of the applicants. KG Managing Director Andrew Stern testified to lawmakers this month at a hearing on the Patrick administration revenue sharing compact with the tribe that his company had already spent $7 million on its potential project to transform a polluted former power plant along the New Bedford waterfront into a casino.
"All we've ever asked for is a level playing field," Stern said.
Day said he built a shorter 85-day period into the schedule for background investigations, down from 135, because he anticipates the number of applicants to be smaller than in the eastern or western Massachusetts regions. “This pool may not be too big,” he said.
This program aired on May 30, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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