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Milford voters reject Foxwoods-backed casino plan

The field dwindles for resort license for Greater Boston

Guy Romano (left) and Nancy Wojick held opposing signs on the casino referendum outside a Milford polling place.

LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

Guy Romano (left) and Nancy Wojick held opposing signs on the casino referendum outside a Milford polling place.

MILFORD — Town voters emphatically rejected a $1 billion Foxwoods-backed gambling resort on Tuesday, crushing casino plans five years in development and shrinking the field of applicants for the state’s most lucrative gambling license.

The last of 11 original Massachusetts casino or slot machine parlor proposals to reach the ballot box joins a prominent list of pricey projects to die at voters’ hands.

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“There was always a lot of opposition,” Foxwoods chief executive Scott Butera acknowledged somberly in an interview after the votes were counted. “We tried to change people’s minds and educate people, but we weren’t able to do it. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The Massachusetts suburbs have been the graveyard of casino dreams, and Milford voters followed suit Tuesday, defeating the proposal 6,361 to 3,480 in a townwide referendum. Turnout was 57 percent of 17,400 registered voters, according to the town clerk’s office. The no votes prevailed in each of the eight voting precincts.

As opponents celebrated, the group Casino-Free Milford credited a low-budget ground campaign that overcame an overwhelming spending advantage by Foxwoods and its partners.

“We knew we would never be able to match the dollars of the Foxwoods’ campaign,” the group said in a statement after its victory. “We also knew that money does not buy you everything, and so we focused our efforts where they would count the most, on the people of Milford, by spreading our message slowly, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor.”

Foxwoods spent $792,000 between April and the end of October, according to campaign finance documents; Casino-Free Milford raised $23,770 for its campaign.

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With Foxwoods eliminated, the field of competitors for the sole Greater Boston resort casino license is down to a Wynn Resorts proposal in Everett and possibly a Suffolk Downs plan in Revere, as the racetrack hastily works to get around a Nov. 5 referendum defeat in East Boston by shifting its planned resort over the city line, into Revere.

The competition for the sole Western Massachusetts resort license has also been ravaged by voters, leaving just MGM Resorts standing in Springfield.

Wynn and MGM are still awaiting the results of state background checks and are refining their proposals ahead of a year-end deadline to submit all remaining plans and documents for their applications.

Three competitors seeking the state’s sole slot machine parlor license have survived: Penn National Gaming in Plainville, Cordish Cos. in Leominster, and Raynham Park in Raynham. The state gambling commission is currently reviewing the applications.

The commission hopes to award the slot license as soon as January and the resort casino licenses in April.

The Milford vote extended a losing streak for big casino projects, which includes the Suffolk Downs defeat in East Boston. On Nov. 5, Palmer voters rejected a $1 billion Mohegan Sun casino by 93 votes. The company is seeking a recount.

West Springfield shot down a Hard Rock International casino in September. A slot parlor proposal failed in Millbury when developer Rush Street Gaming withdrew before the vote, due to a lack of public support. Another slot proposal in Plainville fell apart when developer Ourway Realty was disqualified due to red flags raised in its state background check.

In the Milford campaign, proponents tried to sell the benefits of the development: thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to the town.

But a well-organized opposition gained traction with the electorate by painting a 24-hour gambling resort as an out-of-scale development for the suburbs.

Cousins Scott Tarantino and David Ruggiero, music teachers who moved to Milford from Dedham about 18 months ago, voted against the proposal.

“A small town like Milford can’t handle all the problems a casino is going to bring,” said Tarantino, who teaches in Sharon. “And there are problems that the mitigation money is not going to pay for.”

“We were worrying that we made a mistake by coming here, if the casino comes,” Ruggiero said.

Jean MacKenzie, who moved to town from Framingham 13 years ago, said a casino would exacerbate traffic, crime, and water shortages, while hurting property values.

“I don’t want it,” she said. “There’s already plenty to do here, it’s a great location, and a casino will ruin it.”

For Billy Grant, a lifelong Milford resident voting at the Portuguese Club, the positives far outweighed the negatives.

“When I graduated from Milford High School in 1999, we were sharing textbooks, teachers were being laid off,” he said, before the votes were tallied. “The casino is going to create revenue that can pay not only for books, but computers, iPads, and other things for the schools.”

Paul Nelson, a retired Milford firefighter and a lifelong resident of town, agreed.

“I’m not worried about the traffic; we already have traffic,” he said. “It’s going to help our economy, and more money is not bad for any community.”

The Milford project’s chief development officer, David Nunes, who spent the last five years romancing the community and pitching the notion that Milford would benefit from a resort casino, said in an interview after the vote: “People are afraid of change, and the longer the process went on, the tougher it became for us.”

Though admittedly disappointed, Nunes said he would learn from the loss: “I’ll move on to another deal and see what tomorrow brings.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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