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Menino, Suffolk Downs finalizing casino deal

There are signs of a breakthrough in the protracted casino negotiations between Suffolk Downs and Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration, as the two sides have agreed on the framework of a high-priced deal that will allow the track’s casino project to move to a referendum vote, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations.

Though details have yet to be finalized on paper, the deal will be the state’s richest casino host-community agreement to date, with payments to Boston dwarfing the $25 million annually that a rival developer, Wynn Resorts, has agreed to pay to Everett, one of the people said. The package would take a substantial slice from Suffolk Downs’ bottom line, but offers a new selling point in the fierce competition for the coveted Greater Boston resort casino license: Less for us, more for the community.

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Suffolk Downs, which straddles the line between Boston and Revere, has already struck a separate deal with Revere. The details have been kept confidential, so both agreements can be released at once.

The East Boston horse track is one of three competitors for the resort license; the others are Wynn Resorts and Foxwoods, which is planning a gambling resort in Milford. Foxwoods has not yet reached a deal with the town.

Neither Suffolk Downs nor the city would confirm this week that their negotiators had reached an agreement.

Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said by e-mail Thursday: “There is not a deal at this point. When there is a final agreement, we will make it available for the public.”

In a day rich with casino news, competition for the state’s sole slot machine parlor license intensified with the entry of Penn National Gaming, which is pitching a $200 million slots facility in Tewksbury, a company spokesman said.

Penn is talking with town officials about developing a slot parlor under the company’s Hollywood Casino brand on a 30-acre site at the intersection of Interstate 495 and Route 133, at 300 Ames Pond Drive.

The project would include as many as 1,250 slot machines, as well as “multiple dining options and other amenities,” according to a Penn official.

Initial reaction from town officials appears positive. “The economic benefits to Tewksbury from a project of this size and scale would be substantial,” Scott Wilson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said in a statement issued by Penn.

The 2011 state casino law authorized up to three resort-style casinos, no more than one in each of three regions of the state, and one slot parlor that may be built anywhere.

Penn originally pursued a resort casino in downtown Springfield, but faced competition within the city from a rival MGM project. The city eliminated Penn in April.

The company joins four other applicants seeking the slots license: Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville; Raynham Park; The Cordish Cos., which recently proposed building in Leominster; and an affiliate of Rush Street Gaming, which is pursuing a slots project in Millbury.

For months, investigators for the state gambling commission have been vetting applicants to ensure that they have strong ethics and solid corporate finances.

Based on the recommendation of investigators, the commission on Thursday deemed Cordish and the Rush Street affiliate qualified to be bidders, the first of the state’s original 11 casino license applicants to be qualified.

The evaluations will continue into the summer for the remaining applicants.

Among the slot applicants, Plainridge and Raynham have negotiated and signed deals with their host communities, a necessary step under the law before the project can move to a mandatory referendum vote.

To meet deadlines set by the state gambling commission, the other firms need to strike deals with their host communities within the next several weeks.

In Western Massachusetts, Hard Rock International announced Thursday that it had finalized a host community agreement with West Springfield that will provide more than $26 million in annual payments to West Springfield and the region, with a minimum of $18 million guaranteed to the city each year, according to a company statement.

The deal includes more than $40 million in up-front payments, much of it for traffic and infrastructure improvements, public safety, and fire safety.

Hard Rock will ask the city to schedule a Sept. 10 referendum for residents to consider the proposal.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.
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