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New contender entering Mass casino sweepstakes

The Massachusetts casino sweepstakes has a surprise new contender.

Chicago casino and real ­estate tycoon Neil Bluhm is pursuing casino development rights in the Bay State and will send representatives to meet with the state gambling commission next week, taking part in a series of meetings the commission has scheduled for ­developers to discuss the casino license application process, said a spokesman for Bluhm.

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Bluhm, chairman of Rush Street Gaming, has not yet chosen a site for a casino in Massachusetts, nor has he decided which region of the state in which to compete for a license.

“We’re considering multiple locations at this point,” said Greg Carlin, chief executive officer of Rush Street Gaming. Bluhm will pursue a casino in the Bay State under a corporate entity called Massachusetts Gaming and Entertainment, he said.

Bluhm is a major player in the casino industry, with a personal wealth of $2 billion, accord­ing to Forbes. In the last several years, he has developed three urban casinos: Rivers ­Casino in Des Plaines, Ill., ­Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and SugarHouse Casino in ­Philadelphia.

His entry into the Massachusetts market has the potential to upend the race for casino ­development rights and provide the increased competition the gambling commission has tried to encourage.

The commission controls ­licenses for three casino resorts, one each in three regions of the state and one slot machine parlor ­license, which can be issued in any region.

The licenses are to be awarded through competitive bids. State officials had anticipated that the competition would drive casino companies to try to outdo each other with innovative projects.

But so far, the competition among casino companies has mostly played out in Western Massachusetts.

Three major players in the industry, Ameristar, MGM ­Resorts, and Penn National Gaming, have proposed casino resorts in Springfield, with each plan costing $800 million or more. Operators of Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut also plan to compete for the western license, and have proposed a ­casino in Palmer.

But the Greater Boston and Worcester region so far has just one resort casino applicant: Suffolk Downs, which proposes to build a gambling resort at the East Boston track in partnership with Caesars Entertainment.

Commercial casino development in the final region, Southeastern Massachusetts, is on hold, while the state grants time for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to make progress on a proposed tribal casino developed under federal law.

Bluhm’s sudden entry into Massachusetts comes after a long period of quietly scouting for land, while the gambling commission established regulations and timetables for the appli­cation process.

The commission has broken its application process into two phases, recently releasing its application forms for potential bidders to be prequalified. In that initial phase, the commission will investigate each applicant to weed out developers with shaky balance sheets or with key employees of questionable character.

The second phase of the application, in which developers will be required to describe their sites and projects in ­detail, will probably not be due until well into 2013.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.
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