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Foxwoods offers Milford bigger project, more cash

Expanded deal pays town $31m a year, adds square footage

Foxwoods wants to increase the square footage of its proposed Milford casino by 41 percent in the initial phase, adding more hotel rooms and additional casino games and amenities, while also dramatically raising its proposed annual payment to the town to more than $30 million.

The expanded proposal, accomplished mostly through taller buildings within essentially the same footprint as earlier plans, is Foxwoods’ attempt to stay competitive with rival projects in Boston and Everett, and to satisfy Milford’s desire for more guaranteed revenue from a gambling resort.

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Under a new proposed deal with Milford, Foxwoods would give the town an upfront payment of about $34 million and then annual payments of about $31 million, with provisions that would increase the annual amount if the casino is highly profitable, Foxwoods chief executive Scott Butera, said in an interview.

“The numbers I’m talking about are flat numbers,” he said. “They’re guaranteed to get that $31 million per year, whether we make a billion dollars or we make five dollars.”

In a town of about 25,000 people, Foxwoods would make the highest annual payment to its host community, on a per capita basis, among the casino rivals competing for the coveted Greater Boston resort casino license, he said.

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Foxwoods wants to increase the size of its initial development phase from 692,000 square feet to 980,000 square feet. The number of hotel rooms would go from a planned 300 to 500. The expansion would be accomplished by adding about 30 feet to the height of the low-rise buildings in the campus-like resort, Butera said.

“The footprint, the design, the look and feel of the place, the open space — that is all preserved,” said Butera. “We’re increasing the size of the program and we’re coming in line with the other two projects but . . . this is not something that changes the look and the feel of the project.”

$31m: Amount Foxwoods would pay the town of Milford annually under its expansion proposal.

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The gambling floor would also expand to accommodate more casino games, including a total of about 5,100 slot machines — an increase of about 1,000 from earlier plans, he said.

“Boston is a very diverse place and you’ll have all kinds of people who will want to play all kinds of games,” said Butera. “We’re adding more product to ensure we have that kind of variety. We will have the biggest variety of games. That’s what we pride ourselves on at Foxwoods.”

The proposed changes would drive up the cost of the project by 8 to 10 percent, he said.

Foxwoods on Friday did not release a specific cost estimate for the development, but David Nunes, the project’s chief development officer, said “we are north of $1 billion in total project costs.”

The new plans retain the possibility of someday building a second phase of development, with the town’s consent, if the resort needs more hotel rooms, said Butera.

Foxwoods is competing for the sole Greater Boston casino license with two other heavyweights of the gambling industry: Wynn Resorts, which has planned a $1.2 billion casino resort on the Mystic River waterfront in Everett, and Suffolk Downs, which plans — along with casino partner Caesars Entertainment — to develop a $1 billion gambling resort at the racetrack in East Boston and Revere.

In addition to upfront payments, Wynn’s deal with Everett includes an annual payment of more than $25 million per year, while Suffolk Downs struck a deal with Boston that would provide the city at least $32 million per year, with the potential for more if the resort is highly profitable.

Boston officials predict the deal with Suffolk Downs will be worth more than $50 million per year.

Earlier this month, Milford officials released a draft host agreement with Foxwoods that would have paid the town about $18 million or more in property taxes per year, as well as additional upfront and annual payments to bulk up local police, fire, and school departments. But that proposal raised questions on the Board of Selectmen about why Milford would settle for less than Everett or Boston, said selectman Dino B. DeBartolomeis.

“In order to give us more money, they had to increase the size within the same footprint,” he said in an interview Friday. “If we want as much as Suffolk Downs committed [to Boston], then it makes sense to allow them to increase the square footage.”

Foxwoods is scheduled to present its revised plans to Milford officials Wednesday. DeBartolomeis said it is possible the board could vote as soon as Sept. 9 on a revised agreement with the developer. Once an agreement is finalized, the board would set a date for a public referendum, which would take place in about two months.

Clyde Barrow, a casino specialist at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, said Foxwoods’ plans are further evidence that “everybody is feeling competitive pressure to upscale these projects to a billion dollars. The competition is moving in that direction.”

Barrow said increasing the proposed payment to Milford will not persuade casino opponents to support the project, though it could swing some undecided voters who have not yet made up their minds.

The state gambling commission will choose the winning casino project in early 2014.

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