Minutes before Tuesday’s application deadline, a third developer joined the competition for the Greater Boston casino license, bringing the tally of contestants to 11 in the multimillion-dollar competition for gambling rights across Massachusetts.
David Nunes, who has long marketed his Milford site for a casino, filed an application and the $400,000 fee just 10 minutes before 5 p.m. That was the deadline for entering the sweepstakes for casino licenses in Eastern and Western Massachusetts, as well as the single slots parlor license controlled by the state gambling commission.
Nunes’s project will compete directly against Suffolk Downs in East Boston and its partner Caesars Entertainment, as well as with Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, who has proposed a resort hotel on vacant industrial land on Mystic River in Everett. Caesars and Wynn each say they will spend $1 billion on their projects.
The 2011 state casino law authorized up to three resort casinos in Massachusetts, no more than one in each of three regions of the state, and one slots parlor that can be built in any region. Commercial casino development in Southeastern Massachusetts is on hold to allow the Mashpee Wampanoag time to make progress on a tribal casino in Taunton.
Two other newcomers also filed applications in the final hours before the deadline: Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, chairman of Rush Street Gaming; and a corporate entity related to The Cordish Companies, which developed Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Florida and opened the Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, Md., in June 2012, according to Cordish.
Bluhm and Cordish are wild cards in the casino battle: Each filed applications and posted the fee, but did not declare sites, nor did they say if they would seek a license for a resort casino or a slots parlor. That information will not be required by the state for at least several more months.
In Western Massachusetts, four prominent gambling companies — MGM Resorts, Penn National Gaming, Hard Rock International, and Mohegan Sun — will duel for a single resort casino license, with projects running in cost from $600 million to more than $800 million.
Plainridge Racecourse and Raynham Park have each applied for the slots parlor license.
“This is what we’ve been doing for the last nine months — [trying] to get robust competition for each license,” an ebullient Stephen Crosby, gambling commission chairman, told reporters Tuesday night.
For most of the last year, only the western region saw much action from developers, and it appeared that a casino bidding process based on competition may fail, especially in Greater Boston, where Suffolk Downs was the lone entry for what is considered the most lucrative license. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Boston native and one of the richest people in the world, last spring terminated his Massachusetts lobbyist and passed on the state, saying the market could not handle three casinos and a slots parlor. Wynn tried for a casino resort in Foxborough, part of the Greater Boston region, but got blocked by hardened local opposition and gave up in May.
Other casino executives quietly acknowledged that they thought Suffolk Downs had too much political muscle to be beaten, so why bother competing?
The Greater Boston region was so quiet that Gary Loveman, Caesars chief executive, said last summer that he did not expect to face any competition for the license, a bold statement for the normally cautious public persona of Suffolk Downs. The thoroughbred track hosted a successful rollout of its casino proposal in June, unveiling plans for what it called an “urban oasis’’ that included a horseshoe-shaped glass hotel, up to 10 restaurants, entertainment venues, retail shops and a spa, and 200,000 square feet of slot machines and Las Vegas-style table games. A Suffolk Downs casino would also preserve live racing at the track, which is unlikely to survive if the project fails to win the license.
But Wynn, the builder of some of the most iconic properties on the Las Vegas strip, never completely swore off Massachusetts after getting stonewalled in Foxborough. He quietly investigated a rural site in Oxford, before choosing a vacant industrial property on the Mystic River in Everett.
While Suffolk Downs is measured in its public statements, Wynn is the opposite.
“What I’m going to do is build the nicest hotel in Massachusetts,” said Wynn, in a Globe interview Monday, “with beautiful rooms, several great restaurants, some good shopping, plenty of entertainment like nightclubs and stuff like that. It will be like a Four Seasons combined with Lansdowne Street, with a gaming room attached to it. It can be the kind of hotel you couldn’t afford to build in Boston if it wasn’t for the fact it has gaming.”
Wynn has been working on designs, drawing inspiration from Encore Macau, a dramatic bronze-colored hotel he built in China, he said. “The hotel tower is the dominant factor in the architecture. Positioning that tower to take advantage of the waterfront peninsula [on the Everett site] is my challenge.”
Nunes revealed in an interview Tuesday night that he has brought in financial partners on the development, primarily Robert Potamkin, a Philadelphia auto sales magnate, and Bruce Etkin, a Colorado-based developer.
Potamkin is a minority partner in the SugarHouse casino in Philadelphia, developed by Neil Bluhm, who also filed for a Bay State license. They have been in a legal dispute over the scope of an expansion, according to media reports.
Nunes declined to discuss the details of his proposal last night. He promised, “We’re going to go the distance on this,” and took a shot at his new competitors, Suffolk Downs and Wynn. “From a location standpoint, we start head and shoulders above two semiurban locations with huge infrastructure issues.”
The bulk of the $4.4 million in applications fees collected by the state will pay for the commission to investigate each developer, to weed out any company with shaky finances or with people of questionable character in key positions. That is the next critical step in the state licensing process.
The commission received four requests to extend the application deadline, and probably will discuss the requests at its regular meeting Thursday.
Crosby said the commission expects to license a slots parlor by the end of 2013, and the first casino resort by February 2014.
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